Former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has broken ranks to eviscerate News Corp at the Senate inquiry into media diversity, accusing Rupert Murdoch‘s media empire of being “an absolute threat to our democracy.”
The former PM rocked up to the Senate inquiry after having his political aspirations torpedoed by News Corp not just as the head of government, but also more recently as head of a NSW Government climate change advisory board. Turnbull was one of only a handful of prominent Liberals to call for stronger action on climate change, even if his own leadership appeared to lack the same enthusiasm.
At the inquiry, Turnbull claimed that News Corp publications have been acting in a “highly partisan way, akin to a political party.”
News Corp Australia publishes some of the biggest newspapers in the country like Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and Melbourne’s Herald Sun, as well as the only major daily papers in cities like Brisbane and Adelaide. It also owns Sky News Australia, which has built a reputation for fueling right-ring culture wars.
“It’s not a case any longer of a newspaper that does a fairly straight job, consistent with its format, but then leans one way or another at election time,” he said.
“It is now full-on propaganda, complete with targeting individuals, vendettas, and ideological campaigns like the whole campaign against action on global warming.”
The onslaught of hit pieces on about media personality and 2015 Young Queenslander of the Year Yassmin Abdel-Magied comes to mind. Abdel-Magied had to move abroad in 2017 to escape the hatred she received.
Strong words from Malcolm Turnbull about Murdoch's attacks on Australian Muslims to the #MediaDiversityInquiry
— Kevin Rudd (@MrKRudd) April 12, 2021
When asked by Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young about the treatment of women, including politicians such as former PM Julia Gillard, Turnbull pointed to the “deep misogyny that you see in the right-wing political ecosystem.”
He also accused News Corp of stirring anti-Muslim sentiments, which ends up radicalising both non-Muslims and Muslims alike.
“What is so frustrating is that these voices on the populist right, particularly from Murdoch’s organisation, are essentially doing the work of the terrorists,” he said.
“What a terrorist says to a young Muslim is, ‘they hate you’, ‘they don’t want you’, ‘you’re not one of them’, ‘you can never be an Australian’ – that’s the message.”
These right-wing sentiments then seep into the Liberal Party’s policy positions, Turnbull said.
He summarised the Liberal-Murdoch relationship paraphrasing something said to him by Queensland LNP MP Ted O’Brien, who is one of the less conservative elements in the party (both O’Brien and Turnbull served as heads of the Australian Republican Movement at one time or another).
“It’s as though my branch members are having a meeting Alan Jones and Peta Credlin every night,” Turnbull recalled O’Brien as saying.
Turnbull explains to the #MediaDiversityInquiry how Murdoch is radicalising the Liberal base.
"It's as though branch members are having a meeting with Alan Jones and Peta Credlin every night."
— Kevin Rudd (@MrKRudd) April 12, 2021
News Corp has not yet released a statement in response to Turnbull, not did it respond to request for comment from some other publications. But it’s safe to assume no company would agree with being branded as “full-on propaganda”.
In between the moments when Turnbull particularly took down News Corp and its influence on the Aussie political landscape, he also found time to gloat about his own supposed achievements in promoting things like women’s equality and intercultural understanding, without actually pointing to concrete examples.
But it’s the media criticism that mattered at the inquiry, and it’s also been one of the few things he’s been able to see eye-to-eye on with former Labor PM Kevin Rudd, who gave evidence at the same Senate inquiry back in February.
Both Rudd and Turnbull have been calling for a Royal Commission into News Corp, which has been gaining traction in recent months.
As Turnbull described it, News Corp is “controlled by an American family and their interests are no longer, if they ever were, coextensive with our own.”