Rudd: ‘As Prime Minister, I was still fearful of the Murdoch media beast’, media diversity inquiry begins

Former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has told senators he only ceased being fearful of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp once he left office.

“Australians decided to put their names, in extraordinary numbers, to this petition, because they know that something is crook. They actually know something is rotten and bad here,” he told the senate environment and communications references committee on the first day of an inquiry into media diversity, established after a petition Rudd set up against News Corp gained 500,000 signatures.

Rudd giving evidence to the committee

“And they want us as the parliament, or should I say you as the parliament, no longer me, to act on these questions.

“Everyone’s frightened of Murdoch. They really are. There’s a culture of fear across the country, and the fear is rationally based … What the Murdoch mob are after is compliant politicians who won’t rock the boat. In fact, even better if they provide them with taxpayer dollars to assist them on the way through.

“As Prime Minister, I was still fearful of the Murdoch media beast. That’s just the truth of it. I could pretend that I wasn’t. But I was. I’ve spoken with Malcolm Turnbull [former Liberal Prime Minister who supported Rudd’s petition] about this a lot in recent times. Malcolm, in his period as Prime Minister, was fearful of the Murdoch media beast in terms of what it could do to us as political leaders in our own country.”

Senior executives at the likes of News Corp and Nine, including Michael Miller and Hugh Marks, will also front the senate committee, at which Rudd set out seven reasons why the inquiry should result in a royal commission. He argued that News Corp masterminds and escalates campaigns against specific individuals, and referred to a drink he had with former editor of The Daily Telegraph, David Penberthy, during which he asked “why do you do that?”

“To which his answer was, chillingly, ‘Because we can.’ I never forgot that.”

During Rudd’s testimony, Penberthy tweeted that the former PM is a “total fantasist”.


But Rudd was adamant there is a culture of editorialising news coverage, continuing: “If you had here Boris Whittaker, who runs Sky News, if you had here Chris Dore, the editor of The Australian, if you had here Ben English, the editor of The Daily Telegraph, and asked them these questions: Have you ever had conversations with News Corporation’s management about which way we are going on a particular issue or a particular person? Let me tell you, they would be doing a disservice to the requirements for transparency in this committee were they to deny that is the case.”

The former Prime Minister referenced climate change as a key reason for his petition – “You do not have to be a Rhodes Scholar to work out that Rupert Murdoch is a climate change denialist” – and pointed to Sky News, where Alan Jones is the “Arch Deakin of hard right conservatism in this country”, as the local version of America’s Fox News (both stations of which are owned by News Corp).

“I’ve lived in the US for the last five or six years. I watch Fox a lot,” Rudd noted.

“And what I’ve seen over that period of time is the creation of this frankly alternative political ecosystem out there on the far right, which is self contained, fed by a self contained echo chamber, and it’s called Murdoch’s Fox News, whereby the most unfounded conspiracy theories suddenly become gospel truth.”

His position is “galvanised by the position taken by James Murdoch himself”, who resigned from the News Corp board last year “over certain editorial content published by the company’s news outlets”.

“James has been at the heart of the Murdoch beast for 25 years. This is not a casual observation,” Rudd said.

“When James Murdoch says that the Murdoch media empire has been engaged in deliberate disinformation, that it has engaged in a whole series of secret, non-transparent arrangements, that its activity on climate change has been disgraceful, that’s from the centre of the beast. That’s not me, that’s him.

“So if James Murdoch thinks that, my submission to you as senators is, please give consideration to supporting what a half a million of your fellow Australians have asked for, which is a royal commission into the future of Australian media diversity.”

Rudd added that the News Media Bargaining Code does not address the “existing media monopoly in this country, which is Murdoch. In fact, the actions taken entrench the powers of the existing Murdoch media monopoly”. Facebook pulled news from its platform this week for local mastheads and users in response to the code passing the lower house, while Google has entered into significant commercial deals with News Corp, Seven, Junkee, and reportedly Nine.

Rudd’s concern about media diversity was intensified last year, he said, when News Corp closed over 100 print newspapers.

“I’m old enough and ugly enough to remember when there used to be another paper in Brisbane. It was called the Brisbane Telegraph,” Rudd recalled.

“Murdoch bought that, back in the late 80s, under a solemn promise that it would be preserved, perhaps under a different title. They re-christened it the Brisbane Sun, and this paper which had been around for 100 years was unceremoniously killed about five years later, gone, leaving the Brisbane Courier Mail as the effective monopoly paper in town. And we’ve seen that pattern elsewhere.

“We’ve it most recently and spectacularly with Australian Provincial Newspapers. The decision by the ACCC to allow Murdoch to buy APN … meant you had in Queensland, you had this 100% near monopoly emerging. But under the cover of COVID last year, despite the Murdoch empire’s promises to enhance their original local coverage, something like 112 of these papers across the country were shut down.”

News Corp executives Michael Miller and Campbell Reid followed Rudd’s testimony. Miller said he defends Rudd’s right to express his views but does not agree with them, and argued that Australians consume a diverse range of news, including the top 10 news sources.

In January, Nielsen’s digital content rankings showed the most read news channels include the ABC, three Nine titles, two News Corp titles, Seven News, The Daily Mail, The Guardian, and Australian Community Media.

Miller said he was happy to go through each of Rudd’s 56 submissions and dispute them. He said the former Prime Minister misled the committee by claiming News Corp owns 100% of newspapers in Queensland.

“Not only are they [Rudd’s claims] misleading, they are without fact,” News Corp’s local boss said.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.