Comments attributed to Dr Bonita Mason, Program Director: Bachelor of Journalism and Professional Writing, University of South Australia
News Corporation has dominated Australian media and has sought to dominate the Australian news agenda since the 1980s.
It is momentous that Rupert Murdoch is stepping down as Chairman of Fox Corporation and News Corp after a career of almost 70 years. There is no doubt Murdoch has held and has exercised deep influence over the English-speaking media spheres in which News Corp operates, through his own mastheads and media organisations.
One example is when the 1980s Thatcher Government made it possible for Murdoch to avoid having his bid to own the UK Times and Sunday Times referred to the UK Monopolies and Mergers Commission, when he already owned the high-circulation newspapers, The Sun and The News of the World. Murdoch got his way and acquired the newspapers on the promise that he would maintain journalistic independence.
History shows that News Corp neither maintained journalistic independence or journalism ethics and, in some cases legality, in the phone hacking scandals in the 2000s. In response to parliamentary, media and public censure, Murdoch ceased publication of the News of the World in 2011.
Murdoch, one of the last family-based media barons, has always been able to wield power and deep influence over the Australian and other governments and, through this influence – much of it expressed through News Corp journalism – over the societies these governments represent.
It has been widely said that some of News Corp’s activities have been a threat to democracy and an argument can be made for that, but News Corp also produces some excellent journalism and journalists, including many UniSA graduates. However, we have seen some damaging misinformation and disinformation from News Corp.
Despite waning international influence, in a highly concentrated legacy media environment such as Australia’s, News Corp’s influence still matters. We’re seeing that in the Indigenous Voice debate, when The Australian mischaracterised Professor Marcia Langton’s comments about racism and stupidity behind No campaign strategies and statements as being aimed at No voters. Langton did not say aim her comments at No voters, but such coverage is The Australian’s campaigning approach to journalism that has eroded the publication’s accuracy and credibility.
The same kind of inaccuracy and scaremongering occurred during the native title debates of the 1990s and 2000s, and in climate coverage since.
Murdoch’s rise and expansion has been remarkable, beginning with taking over the afternoon newspaper, Adelaide News, as a radical 21-year-old from Oxford University. That newspaper had quite an impact on Adelaide media, politics and society at the time. Murdoch started with one title and developed a media empire that shaped the lives and media consumption of Australians and people around the world.
While Murdoch’s announcement that he will step down reflects his age, it also reflects the waning influence of family-based media barons in the age of independent media start-ups and social media.
As we now look towards the next chapter of News Corp and Fox Corporation under the leadership of Murdoch’s son Lachlan Murdoch, only time will tell how much will change at News Corp HQ. One thing we do know is that things will change, and that some of those changes will come because of Lachlan’s style of leadership, the directions he sets, the corporate culture he fosters, and the decisions he makes, and other changes will come from outside News Corp – from citizens, social movements, global circumstances and governments.