What is the purpose of a newspaper? Is it to simply gather and report events that have happened? Does it have any social purpose? In the 1960 film Inherit the Wind the barb tongued reporter E.K. Horneck (a thinly veiled stand in for the ‘Sage of Baltimore’ H.L. Mencken) opines that ‘the purpose of a newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable’. If this is the standard by which we judge the success or failure of our sources of news, then NewsCorp has grossly failed. Rather than ‘afflicting the comfortable,’ NewsCorp through its daily mastheads and television network Sky News goes out of its way to be their shields. The causes it has deemed worthy of the investment of its considerable resources include the moral defence of convicted child molester George Pell, wealthy retirees receiving exorbitant tax refunds, and international fossil fuel giants. Murdoch’s publications have always displayed an obvious affinity for the conservative side of politics, but in the past 5 years they have fallen from an already low point of mere bias to one of active demented rage towards anyone to the left of Atilla the Hun. In this uncertain era we live in, we are right to be on edge concerning threats to our democracy from abroad and the danger of fake news. But we seem to have woken up far too late to the fact the real threat to our stability and cohesion as a society is coming from the divisive, hate filled Murdoch press.
The Christchurch Massacre of the 15th of March shocked the world, but its horrors were felt particularly keenly in Australia. After all, we were the society that produced the killer, that bred and incubated him. What convinced this man to kill? Before any real self-examination could be done, a distraction came along in the form of neo-fascist senator Fraser Anning with his outrageous victim blaming remarks. It may comfort us to think of the gunman, Anning and his ilk as aberrations, dark figures that rose in a vacuum of their own creation, unaffected by the influences of the outside world. This is assuredly untrue. The truth is that for years the Murdoch media has greatly contributed to creating an environment from which these evils could arise. Consider last November’s Victorian state election – for nigh on a year beforehand, the media, led by News Corp, ran a hysterical fear campaign about a supposed wave of crime by Sudanese gangs. Despite the fact that statistics showed crime had fallen over the past year, the Herald Sun would have had us believe that Melbourne was turning into a Detroit-tier urban hellscape, where good honest (white) folk were too afraid to leave their houses. After the incumbent Labor government was re-elected in a landslide despite having been accused of turning a blind eye to this crisis, the issue disappeared entirely from the national agenda. The damage to the community, though, may already have been done. After this vicious year long campaign, are we now surprised that one of Senator Anning’s chief policies is to halt any further ‘black’ immigration?
In 2011, Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt was found by a federal court to have breached Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act in relation to an embarrassing 2010 blog post titled ‘It’s So Hip To Be Black’, in which he suggested that fair skinned individuals were playing up distant Aboriginal relations to further their careers. Since then, the Murdoch media has unanimously led calls for the repeal of Section 18C. An issue of very little import to the overwhelmingly majority of Australians, for four years it consumed front page column inches in The Australian. This issue was the impetus for George Brandis’s infamous statement on the floor of the upper house that ‘people have a right to be bigots.’ In News Corp publications, not only do people have a right to be bigots, it is seemingly encouraged. The adverse finding against Bolt in federal court did not affect his employment or status at the Herald Sun – in fact he appeared to be rewarded for it with his very own talk show on Channel 10, in which Lachlan Murdoch had a 10% share stake at the time. After dire ratings on 10 led to The Bolt Report’s cancellation, it was moved to Sky News after dark, which morphed from a genuine news station to some sort of horrific retirement home for failed Coalition politicians and conservative reporters. The ardent support given to Bolt by his superiors made it clear how they regarded accusations of racism – with contempt. For his part, Bolt became even more extreme. In 2016 he published an article in which he predicted that ‘soon non-Muslim vigilantes will themselves take up arms’ to defend themselves from an inherently ‘warlike religion that licences our destruction.’ ‘Who could blame them?’ he added. In 2018, Bolt published ‘There is no ‘Us’, as Migrants form colonies’, an article claiming that a ‘tidal wave of immigrants sweeps away what’s left of our national identity … immigration is becoming colonisation, turning this country from a home into a hotel’. Not only was Bolt alarmed by the number of Muslims living in Melbourne suburbs – he also feared the proportion of residents that were Chinese, Indian and Jewish. Bolt, regrettably, is perhaps the most well-known ‘journalist’ in Australia. Two articles published in a newspaper with a weekly circulation of 350,000, the highest in Australia, spoke approvingly of anti-Muslim vigilantes and advocated a form of ‘The Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory. And yet we wonder how a far-right terrorist arose in the midst of suburban Australia?
Central to the radicalisation of the Murdoch press has been the television station Sky News. As mentioned above, Sky News after dark is a furious circle jerk by a group of failed conservative figures. Bafflingly however, it is extremely influential among Coalition MPs and was instrumental in the August 2018 putsch against Malcolm Turnbull. Despite its obvious insanity, few predicted the depths to which the channel would stoop on August 6th 2018, when they invited the Chairman of the United Patriots Front, Blair Cottrell, on for an interview. Cottrell is an open neo-Nazi – he has in the past expressed his desire for copies of Mein Kampf to be distributed to every Australian school student and has called for Hitler’s portrait to be hung from classrooms (as an aside, it is curious for a ‘patriot’ to express such slavish devotion to the movement Australians fought and died against on the fields of North Africa, Greece and Crete). It is worth noting that Cottrell has served prison sentences for stalking and arson.
Now perhaps you could argue that there is no problem with inviting Cottrell on for a tough, hard hitting interview where his views can be thoroughly dissected and exposed. In 2009, the leader of the far-right British National Party Nick Griffin was invited onto the BBC’s Question Time panel wherein he was vigorously examined and shown to be a foolish, racist imbecile. If this was Sky News’s intention, then, they would have been worthy of praise. But it wasn’t. Cottrell was handled with kiddy gloves. The host of the show, former Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles, referred to him endearingly as ”mate.” He uncritically asked Cottrell to explain to the audience ‘who he is’ and ‘where he thinks Australia is going.’ Giles cast opposition to Cottrell as coming from the ‘mad left’. Cottrell shared with the audience his view that ‘national pride is needed to galvanise the masses to protect against foreign ideologies … if we can rebuild or reclaim our traditional identity as Australians, then we may be able … to fix this situation ourselves’. After a jovial, polite chat, the interview ended and Giles took a smiling, all buddy-buddy photograph with Cottrell. At no point did any producer or journalist pause to ask whether allowing a convicted felon onto their program to promote his fascist ideology was the right course of action.
Murdoch’s News Corp is a fundamental threat to Australia’s multi-cultural society and its social cohesion. With their virulent efforts over the past couple of years to defend the ‘rights’ of racists and bigots and their attempts to normalise fringe ultra-right views, it is clear that their only interest is to carve out an Australia in 2019 that resembles that of a far-gone era. One that is white, Christian, hostile to outsiders and based on so called traditional values. Thankfully, as their views drift further and further from the mainstream of Australian public opinion, so too is their mass influence declining. When you vote tomorrow, perhaps a maxim you should follow is this: ”What does Rupert Murdoch want me to do?” Then, as a patriot, do the opposite. It would be the quickest way to building a kinder, more tolerant and forward looking nation.