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The 2019 Election and The Need for Media Reform

Scott Morrison has, somehow, been re-elected as Australia’s Prime Minister. After six years of astonishingly corrupt and inept government, the electorate, in its wisdom, has seen fit to re-elect the LNP. As the title of this piece suggests, the major take away from this election for me concerns the media. In particular, the open hostility of the print media, 70% of which Rupert Murdoch owns, to Bill Shorten and his Labor opposition. The television and radio were not much better; even the ABC, which any conservative will tell you ‘leans far left’, was openly hostile to Mr. Shorten. This bias in favour of one political party leads me to call for new legislation necessitating greater diversity of media ownership as well as the appointment of a truly independent ABC board.

The Loudest Voice: Rupert Murdoch

Let us be perfectly clear here: this is not about partisanship. The need for greater diversity of media ownership has nothing to do with the fact that Murdoch’s politics lean drastically to the right. If a raving leftie media mogul existed, and propagandised the electorate to the extent that Murdoch does, that would be a problem too. Rather, this is about whether one man, whatever his politics, gets to be the loudest (and essentially the only) voice in the debate. Murdoch’s extreme right wing politics has poisoned the electorate and installed a government that had no business winning this election.

To address the counterargument ‘isn’t Murdoch entitled to his opinion?’, two points. One, I never said he was not; you made that up. Second, while he can have his opinion, he is not entitled to turn that into the opinion of the nation. It is for this reason that greater diversity of media ownership is necessary. This is, as I said above, not about partisanship. This is about the undue influence of one man on politics. That man’s personal politics are irrelevant: a variety of opinions are necessary for a flourishing debate. The fact that any serious left-wing voices are either silenced or non-existent means we get far-right or right wing voices. Some debate.

Other Loud Voices: Clive Palmer

Clive Palmer spent tens of millions of dollars of his own money on ads not only for himself, but against Bill Shorten. You may recall the ‘Shifty Shorten’ campaign from the election. Now you might argue that Palmer is entitled to do as he pleases with his own money. I disagree: he should not be able to buy his way into parliament. A self-funded personal campaign is one thing, but to openly attack one of the major party leaders in ads you spent millions of dollars on? I do not think so.

We must institute reforms that limit the amount third parties, whether individuals, corporations or unions, can spend on elections. Wealthy individuals buying ads and funding campaigns in support of one party is anathema to democracy. Remember the anti-carbon and mining tax campaigns? In an actual democracy, if Rinehart and Forest disagree with government policy, their recourse is to vote like everyone else. They cannot deploy their wealth to get their way. That way oligarchy lies.

National Broadcaster Turned Nationalist Broadcaster: The ABC

It is remarkable that the Coalition can accuse the ABC of leaning ‘far left’, particularly in light of pieces like this one from Patricia Karvelas. This propaganda piece would make Sky News after Dark blush with how pro-liberal it was. Morrison is a ‘legend’ and ‘brilliant’ and ‘demolished’ Labor’s agenda. This is not journalism; this is a woman who works for an outlet that the government funds trying to keep her place as a line-item in the ever-reducing ABC budget. The ABC does not know, or is intentionally ignoring, the fact that the LNP does not care what they actually say or do. They have made up their mind: privatise the ABC. This network, once a bastion of actual journalism, is towing the government line for the privilege of temporary survival. Shame!

The solution to this problem of the ABC as a political football is to put in place a truly independent board, fund the network in five year blocks and chain this funding to inflation. Such an independent board would exclude any and all current or former News Corp employees and would, in accordance with the network’s own charter, represent all points of view. These provisions should be written into binding legislation and be subject to ongoing review. The government, regardless of its persuasion, would have no say in who is on the board, and oversight would make sure the board was working in the best interests of the ABC.

Solutions: Media Diversity and Clean Elections

Lest I should come across as purely critical, unlike the Morrison government, I actually want to offer solutions. First is legislated diversity of media ownership. Whether that means creating more print outlets or breaking up Murdoch’s empire, the percentage of the media he controls must reduce. Any voice that is as dominant as Murdoch’s requires balance. Perhaps Truth in Media laws might help as well. Laws that effectively say ‘You cannot make up stories to suit an agenda’. These are but two suggestions to bring actual diversity to Australia’s media.

As for clean elections, Clive Palmer’s multi-million dollar outlay surely demonstrates the need for a cap on election expenditure. The idea that a wealthy citizen has greater influence over elections than someone poor is not democratic. For reasons of consistency, this would need to extend to unions as well. The solution is for public funding of elections: ban all third-party expenditure. The treasury allocates a fixed amount of money to both parties and they make of that what they will. To hell with this idea of wealthy magnates buying the policies they want while the rest of us get the scraps.

Conclusion

I realise that all of these ideas may not be practical, and I have not worked out all the details. Rather, I hope to start a conversation here. Australia needs to get its democracy back. A major way we move towards this is by removing the poison that is Murdoch’s media empire and banning the wealthy from purchasing elections.

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31 comments

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  1. John McLennan

    But will we be allowed to have a say or will our voices be drowned out by the Murdoch Monopoly? (it gets worse – spell check just refused my effort to spell Murdoch without a capital! – he is now a divine being?)

  2. Steve Cooper

    Totally agree.
    And isn’t Murdoch’s influence, foreign interference in our election, he is an American citizen after all.

  3. whatever

    I refuse to watch any TV, now. I will no longer listen to any so-called current affairs radio, ABC or commercial. I give up with every Fairfax, or Costellofax, publication.
    The new media is here, and it is made by ordinary people. I hasten to make the distinction that this does not include the legion of Facebook urgers who just republish RWNJ memes.

  4. LInda

    My head told me that Labor would never win. Simply because of all the facts you have just written about. When the PM stands up and lies on a daily basis, it’s impossible to compete against all those odds. Even FB had some of the most disgusting memes and lies I have ever seen. I can’t see how it will be any different in 3 years time. I heard just a while ago that 90% of Queenslanders consciously voted to keep the Franking Credits for just 5% on the population. There is just no understanding that thinking!!!

  5. Ken

    Tim you have raised some very good points and I agree with you on these. Ken

  6. Yvonne Robertson

    I agree with what you’ve said but have things to add.

    It was the LNP which recently watered down the media laws allowing Murdoch to have tentacles in all of the current medias. I wonder also whether the utter vitriol stems in part from Shorten’s ‘audacity’ in refusing to go cap in hand and meet with the man who the New York Times considers has been largely responsible for the establishment of ultra right wing governments throughout the democratic world. No doubt his empire has helped to create the ‘new normal’ which is slanted toward businesses which want to carve the world up between them.

    I do wonder at the notion that there will ever be a left leaning mainstream media outlet given that media is currently about business is it not? Those with vested interests lean in a particular direction and it’s not one of level playing fields and fairness. Likewise those working for them are either over paid and bloated with their own self interest like Jones and Sheridan and co or they are running scared, we are told and writing what they’re told or waking up to find their copy completely doctored.

    Patricia Karvelas was last employed by Sky though I do think she’s so consumed by the action and excited by the blood sport that every political tragedy seems exciting to her. The ABC is already stuffed and probably will be unrecognisable three years hence. Hell, I don’t recognise it now!

    Clive Palmer. Well he had a purported $80 million to spend on advertising because the government bailed him out of his obligations to pay his workers to the tune of $70+ million. Your tax payer dollars at work. I suspect this plan was hatched by Mr Teflon himself, Scott Morrison back in the early part of his ‘bloodless’ take over of the leadership. Palmer on board with preferences and a saturated media campaign saying all the dirty things that some Liberal voters might find distasteful if it came from their own. And at the end is the cherry on top – the opportunity to open his own mines which he has long been angling for, in the Galilee Basin, using the rail line to be built by Adani, for his own enterprises. This could never have happened under Labor. Will he have a case to answer for not paying his workers now? It would seem like this is straight from the Liberal and National Party handbook – use taxpayers money to pay those who will in turn give donations of one kind or another to their party. Think Parakeelia Think Indue Card. Think the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, the $80 million payment to Angus Taylor’s uni mate who now owns the companies which Taylor set up and all for pretty much zero amount of water for the environment. The examples are just about inexhaustible. Meanwhile the Nationals scoop the Hanson vote because they’re ‘so much alike’. You can say that again!

    While we may regulate donations, we can’t stop ‘individuals’ spending their own money and taking out advertisements in Rupert’s rags. Seems like we can’t stop them telling lies or even breaking AEC regulations – slap on the wrist – don’t do that and then it’s lost in the mists of elections past.

    The only hope – and it’s an ugly one – that I have is that if you give them enough rope, this Morrison government will hang itself.

    Finally, I can’t go without mentioning the own goal kicked by Bob Brown and his Green misfits in Qld

  7. New England Cocky

    It is unlikely that Australia will follow the Fiji model of media reform by forcing the sale of the Fiji Times (?), the local Murdoch masthead, which a local person purchased and continues to publish, without the government paying any compensation.

  8. Cynthia @cyncraft1

    This morning’s headlines of “Scomo’s Miracle” is more befitting of a Magician’s Slight of Hand. Trying to understand the logic of the published polls for the past 2 years and the overwhelming support for Climate Action, I find it illogical that this “miracle” emerged as the result of a fairy tale. So many lies and confusion. What have we got to do to get “truth in advertising “.

  9. Judith

    So true. Democracy was hijacked this election. Obfuscation, fake news and downright lies on the back of an ad man with a $60m bankroll and no opportunity for truth or redress is no different to those countries where governments own the media except here it seems the media ends up owning the government. What rewards for Palmer – maybe a knighthood?

  10. Ill fares the land

    Thanks for the article Tim. Unfortunately, what you seek won’t happen. Conservatives relish the idea of controlling the media asnd there are a varietry of ways to achiueve it.

    Trump has to use his lies about “fake news”l. This is a bit like “farting in a lift” – as long as you can quickly accuse someone else, the rest will fall in behind (deliberate pun) – especially when you are dealing with an electorate that is drawn to being tough guys and they want their country and their lelader to be “tough”. Tough on refugees, Mexicans, Chinese, Democrats – you name it, there is a lo9ng list of people and groups that Trump’s supporter base like to hate and Trump is the purveyor of the message to be sent to those groups so they know how much they are hated.

    Then there is the Putin/Erdogan/Al-Assad method of threatening the press, or just locking them up and/or locking up dissidents. Duterte does this as well. Power-crazed despots who need more power to protect their positions.

    In Australia, the conservatives don’t really have to do anyhting – they have the mainstream media (MSM) in every format on side to9 the point where the MSM will simply invent stories. Editors in Murdoch’s image who know what he requires of them and they deliver.
    He doesn’t actually reqward them for peddling his extremist views, but they will get punished if they don’t.

    Moreover, in the election campaign I even sensed that the ABC was displaying a subtle level of anti-Labor bias. Even on Charlie Pickering’s Weekly, the anti-Shorten lampooning seemed to be far more vicious and frequent and I felt the same with the otherwise hilarious Sammy J. Not that they didn’t lampoon Morrison, but Morrison seemed to be getting let off the hook somewhat. In Australia, the MSM just happens to want what the LNP wants – a happy confluence of wacky, extreme, paranoic, nasty (if not evil) and selfish.

    In the light of the paucity of a Labor leader who can sell a message and just be the kind of PM the rabble wants and the venomous MSM, I wonder how Labor will get elected any time soon. A national disgrace and a national disaster – so to the 5.0 million or so who wanted Morrison, get ready to ignore corruption, chaos and division.

    How can I predict that?

    SImple; we had 6 years of chaos under three PM’s – why will it change now that Morrison has gained even more power that he will abuse (he will do what all deluded boofheads do with power). Corruption – the list is long and self-interest will prevail. Division? Even easier – Morrison got elected by talking up division – his voter base is not supportive of climate change policies, refugees being resettled, migration generally and any policy that might redistribute money to the bludgers on welfare. He wants his supporters to hate Labor and those who prefer a fairer and less nasty country. Division comes naturally to Morrison and his supporters want or crave it – just wait for the sickening stream of “unity” weasel words.

  11. David Bruce

    All the points you make in this review are valid and I found the subliminal messages shown in photos of Bill Shorten very disturbing.

    All that aside, I was one of the electorate who had some misgivings about Bill Shorten in person. In other places I have mentioned his relationships and networks, the most concerning to me being the fabian connections.

    Australians seem to be conservative by nature and any major changes need to focus on the benefits to the individual, the community and the country (the stakeholders). I felt that was lacking from both major parties.

    If a business or public enterprise wants to make a sustainable change, there are five (5) essentials

    First is a clear articulation and acceptance of the vision for the future and the benefits to the stakeholders.
    Second, there needs to be adequate resources available to fund, finance and sustain the change(s)
    Third, there needs to be a clear incentive for the stakeholders to facilitate the change(s)
    Fourth item relates to the skills, knowledge and capabilities of stakeholders and facilitators of the change(s)
    Finally, there needs to be a well thought out plan of action to implement and sustain the change(s)

    If any one of these items is missing, then it is possible to predict the outcome! (Google: Ambrose)

  12. whatever

    Offtopic, but the rambling old man nonsense that Trump goes on with about ‘Chay-nah!’ may soon mean Huawei phones will not be able to get any Google services.
    Huawei has been placed on a State Department list of companies that are deemed too close to authoritarian governments.

  13. Kronomex

    Good luck in pushing for anything that even vaguely looks like media reform for at least the next three years from the Scummo gubmint. The LNP has been in The Murdoch’s back pocket for so long that you can’t separate where he ends and they start.

  14. Henry Rodrigues

    It was accepted as common wisdom that as the internet gained wide spread use and reach, all the other print media would lose their potency and influence. So what do the dark masters do ? They corrupt the internet, via FB, twitter etc.

    There might be other ‘murdochs’ after this one carks it, but there will always be a coalition waiting to assist him or her.

  15. whatever

    It appears that there was some kind of RWNJ rallying around the case of Israel Folau, the right to call gay people “bloody poofters”. Voting for Scotty was supposed to be some kind of protest against all this civility and tolerance.
    Such bravery!

  16. Henry Rodrigues

    whatever…. you’re spot on. On mother’s Day weekend, a family member by marriage who is a dyed in the wool coalition voter used the same argument, that this dork had a right to criticize anyone he liked because of ‘free speech’. He even cited Alan Jones supporting the dork. So I casually slipped in that Jones was a poofter himself , so it must be something to do with RWNJs.

  17. Keitha Granville

    Re buying votes – we need to go back to a system that used to exist in TAS where there was a limit to the amount each candidate and each party could spend on campaigns. No limit to foot traffic and door knocking, but ads, posters and leaflet costs were capped.
    On top of that pork barrelling should be outlawed. Those electorates that are safe for either side get NOTHING from year to year because they have nothing to offer. The amounts promised in campaigns should be the same for every electorate, then the candidates actually have to prove they are the best person/party for the job.
    How interesting democracy might be then ?

  18. Peter F

    Limit political advertising to discussing YOUR OWN policies.

  19. guest

    Is it true Murdoch was told he was not fit to publish in the UK?

    I am going to miss Dorothy Parker’s “Loon Pond” blog online if she does decide she has had enough. Her criticisms of Murdoch scribblers was always witty with subtle satire, precise and damning in its revelation of the misinformation and bias published daily in that rag that many readers would not use to line their cocky’s cage. Well chosen wonderful cartoons added to the demolition of right-wing fatuous pomp and knuckle-headed ideology.

    Then we have Morrison, raised up at the death knell (by divine intervention?} and it reminds us how John Winston Howard was also resurrected with triple bi-pass.

    Morrison shut up shop six months ago because he had become bereft of ideas. He came into power after a line of 50+ losses in the polls. He has nothing to offer. Yet when asked, he said he will be directing Coalition policy.

    In rural areas, voters forgot about the dying fish and the rivers, and the theft of water. They seem to have cut off their noses out of spite, refusing to listen to people from the city or anyone making criticism. So we had the ugly spectacle of a florid Barnaby proudly showing his face in public and reminding us that he is quite prepared to to take over the leadership of the Nationals.

    I wonder why rural people think that urban people should have no say in national matters which affect all Australians – such as climate change and water security. As for jobs to dig and burn coal, they will only speed the cooking of the planet. An economy does not work on a dead planet.

    Faust and Judas sold their souls for a few shekels – and look where that got them.

    So a couple of wealthy ideologues bought up the souls of the unthinking and have poisoned our democracy. Somewhere there must be some justice for that.

    With the Coalition now having to face the bright glare of the limelight, they will have no place to hide. The past six years have shown they are not up to it.They will be found out even more because we know what to look for. And there will be much hurt in the next three years – if they last that long.

    Any one for a prolonged National Strike?

  20. DrakeN

    My worry in all this is the message to younger folks that the way to success is by cheating and lying.
    Those of us who always try to instil honesty and truth in our offspring are fighting a losing battle.

  21. ajogrady

    How many more election losses will it take before the Greens understand that they help create L/NP wins by attacking and undermining the Labor party. It is only having Labor in power that their objectives will become reality, all be it in time. The Greens have become the third arm of conservative attacks on Labor. The others being the The Main Stream media and the L/NP itself. If the Greens were really about the environment and not about power they would re think their political agenda and start to attack the real enemy the L/NP and not give ammunition to the L/NP;s corrupt partner in crime the Main Stream Media. Perhaps the Greens could start talking and working with farmers who are also worried about the environment and be a force against the Nationals that would undermine the Coalition rather then splitting Labor votes in inner city seats. When Labor does gain power the Greens will not get a seat at the table if they continue with their attacks and undermining of Labor. They will then become irrelevant as Labor will be the party for the environment. The Greens need to have a good hard look at how they operate.

  22. ajogrady

    When is advertising in the Murdoch media going to be called what it is, a political donation to the L/NP?

  23. James Lawrie

    The destruction of the ABC’s journalistic integrity is all part of forcing us to accept the ABC’s privatisation.

    We look at anger and disgust at ABC behavior, just like they planned.

  24. Terence Mills

    Senior shock-jock at Sky, Paul Murray admitted that :

    “You can say Sky News at night is a Liberal echo chamber,” Murray said. “I will wear that badge if you will also attribute that badge to others.”

    Since the election other presenters on Sky-after-dark including Chris Kenny, Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones have chastised everybody and anybody who supported Labor and have intensified their calls for the hollowing out of the ABC and SBS.

    Whilst it seems that we must live with Murdoch broadcasting even if we view it entirely as entertainment they do not have a mandate to destroy public broadcasting and that’s something we must be alert to.

  25. DrakeN

    ajogrady:

    “How many more election losses will it take before the Greens understand that they help create L/NP wins by attacking and undermining the Labor party.”

    Arse about face, mate.

    How many more election losses etc. before the Labor acolytes recognise that their Party needs to cooperate with a broader range of people across the community?

    The declaration that the ALP would not work with the Greens if they needed them in order to take government made Labor sound arrogant and self righteous – which, of course, the heirarchy and the proverbial ‘rusted-on’ generally are.

  26. DrakeN

    Terence,

    “Now is the time for all good people to come to the aid…” of the ABC and SBS.

    Perhaps ABC management could withdraw their weather and rural services based on the fact that they are a minotity of the population: Just imagine the screaming from the Nationals traditional supporters.

  27. Arthur Tarry

    The Queensland situation. Our local newspaper, our regional one, our state-based one and the national rag, The Australian, are all owned by News Corp. They share the same photographs, stories and policies to a remarkable degree and these are solidly in support of conservative political agendas ie: non-progressive. What chance of diversity in opinion can there possibly be? And a similar lack of diversity is apparent in radio and TV here although the ABC does at least try for a semblance of balance. The whole situation is a serious handicap to progressive political causes, to put it mildly. In fact it’s outrageous that this situation has been allowed to occur, and, indeed, a huge indictment to the mugs that allowed it to happen. Did this happen by chance?

  28. terence mills

    ‘Just heard Josh Frydenberg doing a doorstop with journalists, summarizing the global economic challenges and saying that they are getting on with the job and paying down Labor’s debt and not a bleep from the so called journalists………….is everybody to cowed to ask questions…..are we doomed to another three years of this deception ?

  29. terence mills

    This from Bernard Keane in Crikey today, something that you won’t read in the MSM and the ABC would be too scared to analyze the numbers :

    Which party improved its performance most on Saturday? If you only read the mainstream media, you’d think it was the LNP in Queensland, which picked up a surprise swing that saw Labor go backwards in the Sunshine State. Except, the LNP only got a quarter of a per cent swing, according to the current AEC count. And nationally, the victorious Liberal party went backwards on its primary vote by nearly 1%; in Western Australia, another graveyard of Labor hopes on Saturday, the Liberals lost nearly 2%.

    So who did best? Pauline Hanson. In Queensland, One Nation secured over 200,000 House of Reps votes and a swing of over 3% — and they did it without even a tiny fraction of Clive Palmer’s $60 million in advertising, which bought him just 80,000 Reps votes in Queensland on current numbers.

    The preference deals done with Palmer and, in Queensland, One Nation delivered the coalition victory !!

  30. Prink

    Labor need a media outlet that supports progressive policies and offers an alternative to Murdoch. Can they find a philanthropist with Labor leanings to fund a national TV service and a national newspaper? No. They cant and you will see the influence of Murdoch and the IPA get wider and deeper in the psyche of the country.

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