While Kevin Rudd has accused Rupert Murdoch of using his influence against Labor because he fears the National Broadband Network, it has been suggested the Billionaire’s motives may not be financial.
Monday’s sensationalist headline in The Daily Telegraph telling readers to “kick this mob out” inflamed many on the Labor side, with KRudd yesterday quipped to reporters: "He's (Murdoch) entitled to those views, and I'm sure he can see them with crystal clear clarity all the way from the United States."
Fairfax papers also carried editorial questioning whether Murdoch is using his extensive influence to scupper Labor because of the threat the NBN poses to Foxtel – allowing content producers to bypass their platform and get straight to consumers.
Murdoch was quick to reject this, tweeting: “Oz politics! We all like ideal of NBN, especially perfect for Foxtel. But first how can it be financed in present situation?” Liberal media and communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull also pointed out their NBN plan would be a bigger threat, as it would be delivered faster.
Foxtel is also well positioned to take advantage of the faster broadband infrastructure, and could utilise it to make their services cheaper, as evidenced by the recent release of their Play platform, allowing streaming across the web.
So what is behind Murdoch’s intrusion into the Australian political fray?
Dr David McKnight, a journalism lecturer at UNSW and author of the 2012 book Rupert Murdoch: An Investigation of Political Power, told B&T he believed the motives were far simpler.
“He has said many times he likes to exercise influence through his editors. He does that, and he’s unashamed about that,” he said.
“His beliefs and actions are a material factor in Australian elections, he controls 70% of the capital city newspaper circulation. It’s extraordinary, but that’s what happens here.
“I think he’s deeply political, and he doesn’t act on commercial advantage all the time. Many of his newspapers lose money, but they are kept alive to espouse his world view and influence the politics in three different countries.
“Everybody is focusing on his economic motives, but that may or may not be true. We do not need the threat from the NBN to explain what Murdoch is doing. He’s a deeply political and ideological person. Even if the NBN posed zero threat to Foxtel he would still be campaigning to stop Labour getting in.”
A spokesman for News Corp confirmed the 70% circulation domination for the papers, but added: "Using the 70% figure to criticise News is misleading though, given the statistic is based on the Australian public’s choice, that it ignores diversity of news from TV, radio and the myriad online publications and it entirely disregards regional and rural Australians who also vote.
Indeed Murdoch’s use of his publishing assets to get a political leverage is not a new phenomenon. One example is the UK general election in 1992, where the Conservatives clung on to power from a resurgent Labour party.
On election day Britian’s most popular paper carried the headline “If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights” featuring the Labour leader’s head in a light bulb.
The day after a Tory victory was confirmed they ran the headline "It was the Sun wot won it" although last year Murdoch told the Leveson Inquiry into newspaper ethics in the UK he thought the headline was “tasteless and wrong”.
Coincidentally the paper switched allegiances to Labour before their 1997 election landslide, and back to the Tories when they won the most seats in 2010.
But what are the ethical implications for newspaper, and journalists?
Douglas Gimesy, principal at The Framing Effect and teaching associate in marketing and business ethics, says there are four ways to exert influence: providing pure data; persuasion; manipulation and coercion.
“Newspapers can’t really coerce people, but they do have the opportunity to strongly influence them with the level of data they provide, whether it’s true or false, and simply by the way it’s presented and framed,” he said.
But he added: “I think for newspapers there’s an onus on them to provide balanced information. If papers are putting themselves up as presenting news, I'd suggest they have a moral responsibility to allow people to make fully informed decisions, not to manipulate them.”
There are also implications, he added, in the types of story papers choose to run, in terms of priming consumers for their messages and setting the agenda for what issues are actually perceived as important.
He added sometimes the type of media people consume will be indicative of the “critical filters” they apply, giving the example that it would not be surprising to discover that when watching light infotainment, viewer may view the information differently than when watching a program such as 4 Corners.
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