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Fri 4 December 2020

Speaking exclusively to the Byline Times Podcast, Kevin Rudd discusses his campaign to establish a Royal Commission into the need for media diversity in Australia

Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has branded Rupert Murdoch a “thug and a bully” who is “bad for democracy” after garnering more than 500,000 signatures on a petition demanding curbs to the press baron’s dominant media position in his native country.

In an exclusive interview for the Byline Times Podcast, Rudd explained that, as well as running the Foxtel TV network, Murdoch controls 70% of the newspaper readership Down Under, and owns virtually every newspaper in the vast state of Queensland.

“We’ve seen them become progressively [more] abusive of their monopoly powers,” said Rudd, who has twice led his country. “In 17 of the last 17 federal and state elections in Australia, they’ve campaigned viciously for the conservatives and viciously against the Labor Party.”

This matters, he argues, because there are so few other opinion-forming outlets.

“What happens… on radio, television and online is that the Murdoch print media forms the basis for the daily news, and sets the agenda, determines the parameters of the debate, poses the questions to be asked,” he said.

Rudd is calling for the creation of a Royal Commission to investigate how media diversity can be maintained in an age of online news providers such as Google and Facebook, but his most pressing concern is the undue influence of “old” media.

And he sees parallels between Murdoch’s behaviour in Australia and his other global strongholds, the UK and the United States, where he now has citizenship.

“Murdoch’s global predisposition, whether it’s the London Sun, whether it’s The New York Post, whether it’s the Sydney Daily Telegraph, is the same – it’s the conflation of fact with opinion,” he explained. “And therefore, there is no longer anything called news reporting. What we’re simply having is opinion reporting dressed up as news, and we end up where Trump took us, which is ‘everything therefore is fake news’. And if we get to that stage in our democracies – the British democracy, the American democracy, the Australian democracy – we start to be in terminal trouble”.

Rudd, who took the centre-left Labor Party into power between December 2007 and June 2010 and again assumed the premiership for a brief spell in 2013, also bears the personal scars of battling Murdoch’s papers.

In a modus operandi which will be familiar to readers of the British ‘red tops’, he said he was subjected to a series of “confected personal attacks” and cited an interview with a former Murdoch editor in a recent BBC documentary series.

“[He] said memorably ‘having the Murdoch press descend on you is like having an entire division of the SS unleashed on you when they want to take you out.’ And that’s what’s it’s like. Murdoch is an absolute thug, and he’s a bully and he trains his editors to become bullies and thugs.”

This possibly explains why so many of Rudd’s former Labor colleagues have distanced themselves from his petition, although he has won the backing of another former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, of the centre-right Liberals whose party leads the country’s ruling coalition.

Despite the record-breaking number of signatures, however, there is no obligation on the Australian Government to respond. It seems the best Rudd can hope for is an investigation into media diversity by Australia’s upper house, the Senate.

That would fall some way short of a full Royal Commission, but would represent a sign of progress for Rudd, who compared Australia, the UK and the US unfavourably to other English-speaking countries.

“It’s worth a passing reflection that ‘how can we have re-elected progressive governments in Canada and New Zealand in the Anglosphere’? Answer? ‘No Murdoch press’.”

Listen now to the full interview with Kevin Rudd on the Byline Times Podcast with Adrian Goldberg, which also features that award-winning investigative journalist Nick Davies who uncovered the phone-hacking scandal


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