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.
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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