Turnbull: Ad-libbed ‘demented plutocrat’ jibe not aimed at Rupert Murdoch

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has denied he was referring to News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch when he referred to a “demented plutocrat” during his speech to launch The Saturday Paper.

During the speech on Friday night Turnbull repeatedly went off-script and made several jibes which appeared to be at the expense of News Corp’s flagship newspaper The Australian and Murdoch.

After lavishing praise on The Saturday Paper’s founder Morry Schwartz and his contribution to Australia’s “intellectual life”, Turnbull quipped: “You are not some demented plutocrat pouring more and more money into a loss making venture that is just going to peddle your opinions.”

However, in a blog posting on his website today Turnbull denied the line was intended for Murdoch, saying: “Given that earlier in my speech I had referred to William Randolph Hearst (immortalised by Orson Welles in Citizen Kane) I was surprised that some people have inferred I was referring to Rupert Murdoch.”

In a version of the speech posted on Turnbull’s website there is no reference to plutocrats, or subsequent jibes which appeared to be aimed at News Corp.

The comments came at the end of a week when Chris Mitchell, editor of News Corp’s The Australian, admitted it lost $30m last year.

Earlier in the speech Turnbull also mentioned The Australian’s recent financial struggles with its 65,000 digital subscribers not replacing lost print revenues, although he did not reference the $30m loss directly.

In the speech Turnbull made several references which appeared to be directed at The Australian, including recent attacks on the editor-in-chief of Fairfax-owned newspaper The Australian Financial Review Michael Stutchbury, which saw The Australian label him “incompetent”. Stutchbury is a former economics editor for The Australian who defected to the AFR in 2011.

In front of a largely receptive crowd, Turnbull joked: “Can I say my estimation of Michael Stutchbury has dramatically diminished ever since I read the persistent editorialising in The Australian about of how he never kept his desk clean — his deficiencies. It’s extraordinary.”

He then paused before adding: “That’s the great thing about The Australian — there is nothing too small…”

Turnbull also paid homage to Morry Schwartz, the founder of The Saturday Paper, and how significantly his investments in publishing had made an impact Australia’s cultural landscape.

“Many people have spent a lot more money, a lot less effectively than you,” he said. “The combination of vision, passions and truths — you have added immeasurably to the intellectual life of Australia.”

In today’s blog posting Turnbull added:

“In the course of the speech I also noted that Morry Schwartz has said that he operates his publishing ventures – Quarterly Essay, The Monthly and Black Inc at a profit and that he hopes to do the same with The Saturday Paper. I observed that he was therefore not “a demented plutocrat” who establishes and runs newspapers at a loss to peddle his own views.

“Given that earlier in my speech I had referred to William Randolph Hearst (immortalised by Orson Welles in Citizen Kane) I was surprised that some people have inferred I was referring to Rupert Murdoch.

“Rupert Murdoch has been publishing newspapers, including today some of the world’s most influential such as The Wall Street Journal, the Times of London and The Australian, for more than sixty years. And they have been and remain profitable. Far from being a rich man, like Hearst and many others, who makes his money in some other area and then chooses to start a newspaper to promote his own political views, Rupert Murdoch started off as a newspaper man, the son of a newspaper man, and remains a newspaper man.”

Among those in the crowd at Friday’s launch were critics of The Australian including former ABC Media Watch host David Marr and academic Robert Manne,who in 2011 penned a 20,000 word piece for Schwartz’s Quarterly Essay highly critical of the loss making newspaper, which has repeatedly been accused of promoting the political agenda of its proprietor Murdoch.

Turnbull also spoke about the changing digital media landscape and how new entrants such as, The Saturday Paper, The Guardian, Buzzfeed and the Mail Online were a sign of growing media diversity.

“The bias in the digital age is to competition,” said Turnbull. “ and the still retain top places among Australian news sites but compared with the rising class of the Mail Online it has more unique online readers than the Courier Mail.

“The BBC is the tenth most read news website in Australia while The Guardian and Buzzfeed sit at more than one million readers each month.”

“I think this is a time for enormous optimism and Morry you have given everyone enormous optimism not because you are a rich guy – as Deng Xiaoping said it is glorious to be rich – but you not only start these publishing venture but you have actually made them profitable.”

Nic Christensen


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