By P. Francis
MELBOURNE-born American media mogul Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of News Corp, could be the X-Factor tipping the scales in the Australian federal elections on Saturday, 7 September, some people claim.
Already the Australian media polls have shown the honeymoon of the second coming of Kevin Rudd as prime minister after being unceremoniously stabbed in the back – somewhat like what Brutus did to Julius Caesar – is beginning to wear thin.
Australia’s online 7NEWS on 10 August under the headline ‘Rudd momentum stalls, voters abandoning Labor’ said that their poll of 3000 voters in a two-party preferred vote showed Labor drop 1% to 47%, while the Coalition of Liberals and Nationals added 1% to climb to 53%. However,) 9NEWS’ online poll on 5 August showed that 75% of people had already decided who to vote for. The report said: “In the latest Essential poll published on Monday, 44 per cent of voters say they will ‘definitely not’ change their mind, while a further 30 per cent say a shift is ‘very unlikely’.” However a similar web poll on that day had the figure as high as 95% decided, though this could include non-voters and ‘repeat’ clicks by viewers.
Murdoch’s third-generation business empire was estimated to be worth US$ 8.3 billion in 2012 – including interests in Australia, the UK and the US. But it has not been smooth sailing. The 82-year-old has faced allegations of phone-hacking by his staff at the daily Sun newspaper in 2011 after he shut down his tabloid The News of the World.
His online biography said: “Murdoch has drawn wide criticism for monopolising control over international media outlets as well as for his conservative political views, which are often reflected in the reporting of Murdoch-controlled outlets such as FOX News Channel. In the 2010 American midterm elections, News Corp donated $1 million each to the Republican Governors Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a group supporting Republican candidates. Critics argued that the owner of major news sources covering the election should not contribute directly to the political campaigns involved.”
The mastheads Murdoch owns in Australia include The Daily Telegraph in New South Wales, the Courier Mail in Queensland and the Advertiser in South Australia. There have been front-page attacks on Rudd, who angrily countered with allegations that Murdoch, who owns Foxtel, had opposed the rollout of the NBN (National Broadband Network) by Rudd’s government to protect his Foxtel interests and was now waging a vendetta.
Meanwhile, the independent Monthly commentator Mungo MacCallum said that “the anti-Rudd push, if coordinated at all, was almost certainly locally driven” as opposed to being directed by Murdoch, who also took a different position from local editors on such matters as climate change and stimulus packages to combat the financial crisis.
However, The Guardian’s Bronwen Clune wrote on 9 August: “Amongst all the outraged responses to The Daily Telegraph cover featuring Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd and the call to ‘kick this mob out’, not to be outdone its latest front page, the most interesting point was lost. Can Murdoch’s editorialising impact an election? Evidence suggests there is no correlation between reader’s media consumption and how they vote. At least that’s been the consistent finding of the Australian Election Study, the most exhaustive set of data ever collected in Australia on the dynamics of political behavior, conducted on large samples for every election since 1987 and 2010.”
It could be said that mischief and Murdoch go hand in hand. In the past, he has described Rudd when he became PM in 2007 as “”…more ambitious to lead the world (in tackling climate change) than to lead Australia…”. He also criticised Rudd’s expansionary fiscal policies, during the 2008 financial crisis, as unnecessary.
So is the writing on the wall for the end of Rudd? Are voters going to be swayed by Murdoch’s media savaging PM Rudd? I asked a few voters two questions: (1) Do you think it is unfair to Rudd for Murdoch to use his media to target Rudd? (2) Will it in any way change how you vote?
Retired Malaysian-born Pat Lim, who lives in Melbourne, and has worked as a journalist in Australia and Malaysia, will be voting in the elections. He said: (1) “In any democracy, it’s a common practice for media organisations, whether big or small, to take sides for or against the government of the day – just as the government of the day takes aim at specific media organisations during their time in power. This is no different in Australia. The reality of the situation is that ultimately it is the voter who will determine the final outcome of the elections, and there are many factors to help the voter to decide or make up his or her mind. A media organisation’s slant may or may not have any influence at all in the final vote. (2) Absolutely not. Why should it have any influence on how I vote?”
Anthony Perera, of Canberra, who used to work in media production in Australia, Malaysia and Singapore, thought differently: (1) “It is not right for Murdoch to use his media to attack any politician.” (2) “Yes, it will affect how I vote.”
Benjamin Liew, who arrived from Malaysia 25 years ago, said: (1) “Murdoch’s attack on Rudd was unjustified. Why is he telling me and the people not to vote for Rudd? I feel there must be an ulterior motive on his part to control the media in the future when the Liberal is in power. Power crazy? He should be doing more charities to clean himself up with the amount of griefs and angers he created in his media corporations.” (2) “It does influence my vote because I think he has an ulterior motive if the Opposition (Liberal) is in power. I will vote against his wishes. It will be a negative impact if he keeps telling the people how to vote.”
Whatever the outcome on polling day, the sun will still rise on Sunday, 8 September as birds chirp in the trees and Christians worship in church. A mere mortal would have been elected overnight to lead the Great Southern Land in an unenviable ‘battle’ against an economy that can make or break a prime minister!
P. Francis is an English tutor in Melbourne, who has more than 20 years’ journalism experience with newspapers, books and magazines in Singapore and Australia.