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Rupert’s Australia

There was a time when Rupert Murdoch was not all powerful in Australia. There was a time when politicians weren’t scared to speak up and journalists had some integrity. Hawke and Keating changed all that.

Back when truth still mattered, in the midst of the 1975 election, 109 Murdoch journalists went on strike.

Murdoch’s overt interference in the 1975 campaign was so bad that reporters on the Australian went on strike in protest and seventy-five of them wrote to their boss calling the newspaper ‘a propaganda sheet’ and saying it had become ‘a laughing stock’ (Wright 1995). ‘You literally could not get a favourable word about Whitlam in the paper. Copy would be cut, lines would be left out,’ one former Australian journalist told Wright’ (1995).

When Rupert Murdoch made his first takeover bid for the Herald and Weekly Times in 1979 it was strongly resisted with the Melbourne Herald stating “Mr Murdoch’s newspapers always respond in unison – as though to some divine wind – as they pursue their relentless campaigns in favour of current Murdoch objectives – particularly his political ones. Every journalist in Australia knows that.”

In 1981, Murdoch took control of the London Times and Sunday Times with the collusion of the UK prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. His bid was not referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission on the condition that he respected the newspapers’ editorial independence. Almost immediately, the condition was flagrantly breached and Murdoch threatened with a term in prison.

In his book Good Times, Bad Times, former Times editor Harry Evans tells how Murdoch’s buy-out of the Times and Sunday Times hurriedly led to a showdown. At issue was Murdoch’s constant interfering.

“[Murdoch] guaranteed that editors would have control of the political policy of their newspapers … that the editors would not be subject to instruction from the proprietor on selection and balance of news and opinion … that instructions to journalists would be given only by their editor. In my year as editor of The Times, Murdoch broke all these guarantees.”

Murdoch’s papers became standard-bearers for the Thatcher–Reagan radical-conservative revolutions that were undermining social democratic parties and progressive politics throughout the English-speaking world.

In 1986 Murdoch turned his attention again to Australia, announcing a second Herald and Weekly Times takeover bid, this time strongly supported by both Bob Hawke and Paul Keating who both despised the Fairfax press for their own reasons.

Keating was not merely a passive supporter of the Murdoch takeover. By secretly providing Murdoch with inside information about the government’s proposed new media laws – where the ownership of television and newspapers was to be separated – Keating actively sought to bury the Herald and Weekly Times, to thwart Fairfax’s ambitions and to facilitate News Corp’s domination of the Australian press.

As explained in The Monthly, there were several people who understood what the Murdoch takeover meant. Within the senior ranks of Labor, opposition came from Bill Hayden, the foreign minister. He was reduced to silence. Inside the Opposition, Ian Macphee advocated resistance. He was removed from John Howard’s shadow cabinet. A citizens’ group formed whose members included Malcolm Fraser, Patrick White, Hal Wootten, David Williamson, Veronica Brady, Dick Smith and David Penman. Their protest actions had no hope. The takeover was supported by both the Labor and the Liberal parties, and was opposed by none of the relevant gatekeepers – the Press Council, the Trade Practices Commission and the Foreign Investment Review Board.

“Effective control of the media is the first step on the road to controlling the values and the future direction of our society,” the Age warned on 17 January 1987. “It is the saddest reflection imaginable on this society that virtually no one in public life – a former Prime Minister (Malcolm Fraser); a promptly disciplined Foreign Minister (Hayden) and a gagged Opposition spokesman (Macphee) excepted – has dared to speak out against the growing concentration of ownership of the Australian press.”

When the dust settled on the takeover, Rupert Murdoch controlled the sole metropolitan tabloid newspaper in every Australian state except Western Australia and the only general national broadsheet, the Australian. His company controlled approximately two thirds of the circulation of state-wide Australian newspapers. Murdoch’s only press rival, Fairfax, controlled about a quarter. As a consequence of the takeover, Australia now had a concentration of newspaper ownership unknown anywhere in the developed world beyond the party-controlled papers of the communist bloc.

In the short term, Labor was rewarded with the support of the three most popular Australian newspapers, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and Melbourne’s Herald and Sun, in the 1987 election. In the long term it had been instrumental in the birth of what was potentially the most anti-democratic force in national life and also the most powerful future enemy of Labor.

In the new year, we will see the Bernardi/Christensen government reintroduce its relaxation of media ownership laws which include abolishing the “two out of three rule” that restricts media companies from owning a TV network, newspaper and radio station in the same market coupled with abolishing the “reach rule”, which bans TV networks from broadcasting to more than 75 per cent of the population. The government is also said to be willing to make some changes to the sports anti-siphoning list, as well as reducing TV licensing fees.

Any move that lessens diversity or concentrates media ownership any further will be of great detriment to our democracy. Governments are already vulnerable to concentrated media attack as we saw particularly during the Gillard years where the Murdoch press sunk to new lows.

But even more importantly, Murdoch’s domination of the metropolitan press means mainstream debate about certain fundamental ideologically sensitive questions – how to respond adequately to the climate-change crisis; what levels and kinds of taxation are needed to develop the welfare state; the trajectory of foreign policy during the rise of China; Australia’s Middle Eastern policy; and, of course, media reform – is effectively ruled out in advance.

With the infiltration and evisceration of the ABC well and truly underway, it is in danger of becoming an infotainment outlet vainly searching for broad appeal whilst offering a platform for conservative opinion unchallenged by simpering milksop spokesmodels.

“Our ABC”? It used to be.



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  1. Margot

    Must watch.
    Outfoxed • Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism • FULL DOCUMENTARY FILM exposes Fox News

  2. babyjewels10

    Excellent blog post. I learned a lot. And am more than sickened.

  3. David1

    Well said Kaye Lee, in fact bloody well said. With the recent announcement of 200 redundancies from New Corp Australia I took to Social media hoping many of Murdoch’s gutless journalists would be on the list. and that would be their Seasons Greetings from their decaying boss.
    The response was fast, evil and in keeping with the tone of the media they are employed by. I will repost your excellent work Kaye Lee to show the unprofessional Murdoch trash gatherers, they are not deserving of any respect from me.

  4. Christian Marx

    Excellent article. Though Australia is not a democracy. We have a two party, Neoliberal oligarchy.

  5. pierre wilkinson

    and let us never mention Tony Abbott’s grandiloquent gesture allowing almost one billion of tax payers money to go to Rupert

  6. Jaquix

    Absolutely wonderful to read your article Kaye, even if the subject is so depressing and frustrating – and horrifying. The Murdoch effect on Australia is underrated, except by those whose critical thinking skills are still intact. I was lucky to grow up in a non-Murdoch country. It does make a difference. I stumbled across the most atrociously biased piece the other day, turned out to be a “column” written by old fogey Gerard Henderson. That they get away with writing such tosh is amazing, and those commenting heap praise on the author! That is the really scary part. Now Murdoch is worming his way into the TV business. Thats even worse. And his tentacles have spread to the ABC with Guthrie in the top job, cutting toes left right and centre, and replacing them with new Murdoch toes.

  7. George Swalwell

    Shocking indeed. I had not known of Keating and Hawke supporting
    the media take over by Murdoch.
    Australia is seriously suffering from balanced reporting.

    As Mark Twain said: “If you don’t read the papers you are uninformed;
    if you do, you are mis-informed”

    I think he meant it as a satiric joke – but it is so sadly true.

  8. paulwalter

    Christian Marx says it succinctly.

    Murdoch is also a Kapo, guarding capitalist interests in general here. Even Murdoch answers to someone and with him I’d suggest it is the banks and the other oligarchs, who tolerate him provided he shows no humanity.

    It is true Labor learned a savage lesson from class interests headed by Murdoch in 1975, a lesson they have never forgotten, to this very day.

  9. Kaye Lee

    Much of the information comes from the quoted Monthly article from 2013. They go into the reasons for Hawke and Keating’s support.

    “Bob Hawke, who had once advised Whitlam that he would rue the day he got into bed with Murdoch, was in fact a strong supporter. Hawke blamed the conservatives who ran the Herald and Weekly Times for keeping Labor out of power in Victoria between 1955 and 1982. Even more, he resented the light that Murdoch’s rival newspapers at Fairfax – both the Sydney Morning Herald and the National Times – had shone on real or supposed corruption in the NSW branch of the ALP. Hawke hoped to seize the opportunity occasioned by the Murdoch takeover bid to kill or weaken two of Labor’s media enemies. He also believed that he could use his best mate, Sir Peter Abeles, a News Corp business partner in Ansett Airlines, as a political bridge to Murdoch. In his Media Mates, Paul Chadwick records a telling exchange between the prime minister and Senator John Button. Button inquired: “Why don’t you tell us precisely how you want to help your mates?” Hawke replied: “Remember they’re the only mates we’ve got.”

    As Colleen Ryan has documented recently in her Fairfax: The rise and fall, Hawke’s treasurer, Paul Keating, was even more enthusiastic about the takeover, in part for the same reasons as Hawke; in part because Fairfax had raised awkward questions about Keating’s relations with the property developer Warren Anderson; and in part because, as a radical reformer, Keating wanted to inject into the economy the energy of “new money” represented by Murdoch (and Kerry Packer) and to destroy moribund “old money” interests, represented for him by both the hated Fairfax enemy and the moribund Melbourne gentleman’s club he thought was running the Herald and Weekly Times.”

  10. corvus boreus

    Thank you Kaye Lee.
    The sheer prevalence of Murdoch’s mis-informational malevolence is a large factor in our current malaise.
    In the states, the constant stream of simplistic bigotry brayed 24/7 by Fox ‘news’ was the lifeblood animating the Trump beast.
    Here in Rupert’s straya, the Tele,/Mail & Sun are the printed equivalent, sleazy tabloid wrapping for Pauline’s greasy message.

    Ps, the successful 1986 domestic newspaper takeovers came just a year after Murdoch renounced his Australian citizenship in order to legitimize his previous US broadcast media purchases, which were in breach of US regulations

  11. Michael Taylor

    Some years ago Bill Gates was asked who he considered to be the most influential person in the world. His answer was Rupert Murdoch, and he explained why, none of which I can remember. ‘Tis such a pity that one so evil wields so much power.

  12. Zathras

    I remember when Murdoch’s journalists went on strike.

    Many of their unedited stories were published courtesy of The Nation Review weekly newspaper – whose motto was “lean and nosey, like a ferret”.

    The journalist stories were under their own banner of “like a dead wombat, it’s ear to the ground”.

    It took real guts for them to take such action and stand up to the blatant abuse of media ownership.

    They were the days of real independent journalism, not the offerings of the toadying lackeys and pundits of today.

    I think Murdoch’s personal influence has waned considerably because of the internet and the availability of a wider range of news.
    Unfortunately the internet has also created an endless stream of phony news and misinformation.

    People will see and hear what they want to, regardless of its motives and origins and they look to it for personal validation rather than for information.

  13. lawrencewinder

    Twelve months after the dismissal a friend of mine dragged out large thick spring-back binder of The Australian’s daily front pages from the twelve months before the events of November 11. For some reason he had decided to archive them each day and as we went through them the orchestrated demolition of that visionary government became painfully apparent. It was like reading a musical score as the venom, vitriol, lies, half-truths and calumnies ebbed and flowed to crescendo from Monday to Saturday, literally each week having another “scandal” building on some fragment or other ….by the end of the archive, Nov 11, we were as angry a we were on the actual day.
    Thank you for a good article… may his evil life be extinguished soon and may his empire collapse as the products of his evil tear each other apart to gain control of the pieces.

  14. Deidre

    Really great article Kaye. Our democracy has been decimated by Murdoch.
    The last bastion of objective main stream news (previously our ABC) has been reduced to a Murdoch/IPA propaganda unit funded from our taxes.
    Will we ever be able to reclaim our democracy or are we destined to suffer under a dictatorship in the future.
    Many of the younger generations are starting to believe a dictatorship would be preferable to a neoliberal oligarchy.

  15. Terry2

    Great article , Kaye and some informed comments : no trolling so far, maybe they don’t work on Sundays.

    Now there’s a thought !

  16. Alan Baird

    Yeah, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating were no ornaments to the Labor Party. I trace the present blatant inequality back to the ascendancy of Hawke, the uneasy feeling of being had growing week after week. I VERY rarely voted Labor again, and NEVER voted for another Hawke govt. I perceived them as a party of the Right, determined to do nothing that would frighten the REAL (as opposed to Murdoch-labelled) elites. They will remain unsupported by me until they have attained power and actually DONE something that attends to the rampant unfairness of our society. A bloody good article and well worth the unveiling of rarely aired revelations, debunking the reverence oft paid by rusted-on Labor types who refuse to acknowledge what was done to them. They’re STILL paying for it.

  17. Michael Faulkner

    Before he dies, I suspect Rupert would like to fulfil the early 1930s, of the wishes of his father Keith, to emasculate as a threat to the Murdoch commercial dynasty in this country.
    The unfortunate hegemonic influence the Murdochs have had on the development of Australia’s directions over a century now, remain largely unrecorded, and that is a pity.

    However, British historian Tom Roberts’ biography of Keith Murdoch published several years ago titled ‘ Before Rupert ‘ , makes an important start. Keith Murdoch worked out that he could exert much more influence shaping the opinions of Australians as a newspaper man than anyone ever could do as a politician in this new nation. Rupert in a different era has taken the same tack, with greater success. His manipulation of Hawke and Keating is testimony to this. And Australia is the poorer for it.

  18. stephengb2014

    Very good Kaye Lee.

    I particularly like the reference to “the Bernardi/Christensen government”, very appt!

  19. SamGreene

    Agree entirely , it’s sad to watch the ABC turn into garbage , and the Herald try to become a tabloid . They both still have some great reporters , I really feel sorry for them .

  20. jim

    Thirteen of the world’s leading economists, including Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and four former Chief economists of the World Bank, have summarized their accumulated know-how in the Stockholm Statement. Traditional economic thinking no longer applies. Inequality within countries is threatening social cohesion and economic progress and development needs to be seen in a broader perspective in order to achieve more equitable and sustainable results.

    ”Inclusive economic development is the only socially and economically sustainable form of development.” This sentence is taken from the ”Stockholm Statement”, developed by four former Chief Economists of the World Bank including the Nobel Laureate Professor Joseph Stiglitz and nine leading economists*.

    Sida and the World Bank co-hosted a meeting in Stockholm 16-17 September 2016 with the purpose of discussing the challenges faced by today’s economic policymakers. The meeting gathered a distinguished group of the world’s leading thinkers and academics to discuss today’s most pertinent development challenges and the way forward. The outcome of the meeting is the ”Stockholm Statement”, which identifies a set of principles to help frame country-level policies in a rapidly changing and globalizing world.

    The Statement emphasises the importance of policies that tackle inequalities. Trickle down growth policies where the state has a minimal role and the rest is left to the market are not sustainable. It is underlined that the trend towards “unfettered markets” of the last quarter century explains some of the recent crisis (financial crisis of 2008) and the current levels of inequality. GDP growth is needed as a means to achieve societal objectives. This requires a combination of a particular focus on the most deprived groups, deliberate interventions to eradicate oppressive norms and discriminatory practices as well as to attend to the impact of global technology on inequality.

    Environmental sustainability is a requirement, not an option
    The Statement is crystal clear on the importance of taking efforts globally and nationally for mitigation and adaptation. The 13 economists also emphasise the importance of incorporating social norms more consciously in policymaking and see the potential of e.g. curbing corruption by further emphasise on these issues.

    Finally, official development assistance and the role of the international community to advance development opportunities for the most deprived citizens are underscored.

    This is a landmark statement that Sida will actively use and relate to in the Swedish development cooperation, at Sida and in dialogue with partner countries. The principles of the Statement address the core of the Agenda 2030 of an environmentally, economically and socially sustainable development including an emphasis on the joint responsibility of all countries in this globalised world, whether developed or developing, to reach an inclusive and sustainable development.

    The five central perspectives in Swedish development cooperation: poor peoples’ perspectives, rights, gender, environment and climate, and conflict sensitivity, are emphasised through-out the Statement, confirming their importance as underlying development challenges.

    It clearly shows that development needs to be seen holistically to reach more equal and sustainable outcomes. “We can achieve a world with shared prosperity.”

    LNP “funding growth”

    ALP” funding equity” it’s your choice dear voter.

  21. Adrianne Haddow

    Once again, well done Kaye Lee.
    Your forensic journalistic skills far surpass those of the Murdoch hacks.

    A complicit media assists the rise of fascism.
    This is why journalists of the calibre of John Pilger and Julian Assange get no exposure here.

    Instead we have to make do with the vitriolic propaganda of the Kennys, Devines and Maidens.

  22. Karl Young

    Murdoch certainly knows how to manipulate and take advantage of the ego.All those Leader have massive ego’s.He had people figured a long time ago.

  23. David1

    Adrianne Haddow…you did mean to write journalists of the calibre of Julian Assange get no exposure here? The same Assange hiding from 3 Govts in an Embassy in London. The very Assange accused of rape, who has the blessing of Putin’s mother Russian media?

  24. Kaye Lee

    I really should have called this article Rupert and Gina’s Australia

    A fossil fuel company part-owned by Gina Rinehart is suing the Victorian Government for $2.7 billion in the Supreme Court over its fracking ban.

    Earlier this year the Victorian Government banned fracking after a huge battle from farmers to keep drilling rigs off their properties, and harmful gases away from their rivers and homes.

    Lakes Oil, which is part-owned by Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting, has launched a $2.7 billion legal action against the Andrews Government arguing that their corporation will suffer reduced profits.

  25. crypt0

    Excellent article Kaye
    I have run out of things to say about murdoch, the LieNP, the IPA, abbott, turnbull and all the rest of them.
    There’s just nothing left to say, and despite all that has been said, here we are …
    Another three years of the turnbull LieNP. is in store, thanks to the little aussie voters.
    We are watching the (once) good ship Australia go straight down the drain.

  26. Adrianne Haddow

    David1, Yes.
    Accusations of rape , retraction of accusations of rape, accusations of rape again.

  27. Michael Taylor

    Kaye, I saw somewhere that the $2.7 billion she wants from Victoria would cost every Victorian $9 a day for one year. $2.7 billion would help fund a couple of hospitals. I guess that people getting access to health services isn’t important to Rinehart.

  28. Matters Not

    I take it that most readers understand that Gina is domiciled in Singapore, and it’s not because she likes the cuisine. Fact is, a Singaporean resident only pays tax on monies earned within Singapore.

    Gina doesn’t do any mining in Singapore. It follows that tax … You can connect the dots.

    You have to love these ‘great Australians’ and their love for Australia. A great place to visit but not to live.

    Or maybe not.

  29. Kaye Lee

    Gina also agreed to use American steel and equipment as a condition of the loan she got for her Roy Hill mine. Why can’t we do that? She then brought in kazillions of 457 visa workers and exploited them but was she punished in any way for that? Don’t be silly. Just like all those companies who have not being paying super to their employees. That is theft, but are they being prosecuted?

    We should make any approval this odious woman is granted dependent on a promise that she will use only Australian made stuff and Australian citizens as workers. She is possibly the nastiest most destructive most selfish woman in the world – why do we pander to her? She has become fat off the resources WE own and shows NO gratitude, allegiance, or sense that she should contribute to the country who has made her obscenely wealthy.

  30. Jaquix

    100% Kaye Lee – she is another blot on the landscape of Australia. The government were clearly in the wrong by giving her and her Chinese “partners” the Kidman property ( almost certainly with minimum “conditions”), when the wholly Australian option was patently superior, and only minimally less. Bob Katter seems to be the only one calling them out on this, and too late.

  31. Kronomex

    I start each day by looking, usually very quickly, at…sorry…and then go to the half dozen or so other sites I have saved for news that has some meaning and isn’t aimed at the lowest common denominator. Murdrock will back anyone who will help further his aims of total media control but if he perceives any threat then it’s look out and good bye.

  32. Miriam English

    A very important article, Kaye. Thanks for writing it.

    Murdoch is the most dangerous person in the world. He is a far greater danger than Daesh/ISIS, or al Qaeda, or the NSA, or the CIA, or any of those horrible people.

    Murdoch’s control of Australian media is what needs to be broken if we are to make big changes in moving to renewable energy, preventing catastrophic climate change, tackling the risk of looming environmental collapse, getting people ready for a society of massive automation and obligatory lifetime of leisure. He, more than anybody or anything is preventing positive change.

    If the horrors Harquebus talks about do come crashing down upon us Murdoch will be the major cause.

    It is astonishing that one despicable person could destroy much of humanity and the natural world.

  33. Kaye Lee

    Israel has granted a U.S. company the first licence to explore for oil and gas in the occupied Golan Heights, John Reed of the Financial Times reports.

    A local subsidiary of the New York-listed company Genie Energy — which is advised by former vice president Dick Cheney and whose shareholders include Jacob Rothschild and Rupert Murdoch — will now have exclusive rights to a 153-square mile radius in the southern part of the Golan Heights.

    “This action is mostly political – it’s an attempt to deepen Israeli commitment to the occupied Golan Heights,” Israeli political analyst Yaron Ezrahi told FT. “The timing is directly related to the fact that the Syrian government is dealing with violence and chaos and is not free to deal with this problem.”

    Rupert Murdoch and Lord Jacob Rothschild purchased a total of $11 million dollars of “equity positions” with Genie Energy Corporation (IDT) totaling an 11% stake in the corporation back in 2010

    Genie Energy is comprised of IDT Energy, an energy services company that resells electricity and natural gas to residential and small business customers primarily in New York State, and Genie Oil and Gas, Inc., which consists of (1) American Shale Oil Corporation which holds and manages a 50% interest in American Shale Oil, LLC, a joint shale oil initiative in Colorado with Total, S.A., and (2) an 89% interest in Israel Energy Initiatives, Ltd., a shale oil initiative in Israel.

  34. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Well done, Kaye Lee. Murky Murdoch properly exposed.

    I want Hawke and Keating to explain their predilection for Murdoch with the benefit of hindsight.

    I wonder if either of them have the balls to make public admissions that they made profound mistakes that have helped cripple Australia.

  35. Jack Straw

    Jennifer Getting Hawke, Keating or Howard make a honest appraisal of their legacy will never happen. They’re all in denial and their egos wouldn’t dare hear a bad word about themselves.

  36. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    “Every model that Howard and Alston came up with gave Packer an easier run at taking over Fairfax than it gave Murdoch at controlling Seven. Insiders now agree that Howard effectively killed his own reform drive on April 30 when he went on Melbourne radio station 3AW to talk up the Packer cause. The Prime Minister said then there were three choices on media policy – do nothing; open up the media to all comers; or reform the cross media rules while retaining the existing controls on foreigners. (Interestingly, Howard did not mention option four which he had discussed with Murdoch – relaxing both cross-media and foreign ownership controls).

    It certainly continues to be damning, not just for the Howard Government (and I suspect the current Opposition) but also for Murdoch. That’s Conroy’s problem: he won’t hop into bed with Murdoch so he’s rallied his troops. This too, is so wrong. Media Content is Influenced by Ownership, and that suited both the Howard and Murdoch to a tee…”

    I cut these paragraphs from your 2013 article, Michael. It is no surprise to me that fascist Howard made a bad situation much worse on Uncle Rupe’s instructions.

    It also reminds me that I have a sneaky respect for Conroy (although he was a Right Wing headkicker) because he was not a pushover on points of principle and practical threats to the media. Later his advocacy for a world class NBN also deserves lasting respect.

    Conroy was not beholden to Murky Murdoch, as too many in the duopoly have been.

  37. Michael Taylor

    Jennifer, I’m glad you liked it. It certainly is a reminder too of how the Murdoch media was gunning for Conroy.

  38. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Jack Straw,

    I take your point. Conroy’s example then looks even more creditable.

  39. Möbius Ecko

    “Howard made a bad situation much worse…”

    There is little if anything that Howard did right, and the bad thing is that Australia is still bearing the burden of his years in office and will for a long time to come. A lot of the current government’s woes are directly related to what Howard did in power, not that you will hear them ever admit that.

    You can look at any major policy he implemented and see in hindsight how he stuffed it in some way or another, some completely. Yet he’s rewarded with medals, honours and a public expenditure in political retirement that’s by far the largest of any of the other retired PMs.

    The only good thing is that in researching I’ve noticed that the gloss of him being lauded as the greatest PM ever is well and truly wearing off as time goes on. Even his own side is now questioning that label and are pointing out his failures.

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