Wednesday 19th of June 2024

Loosened cross-media ownership means more media bias – a tale from the 2004 election

It’s hard to find a better example of current problems of media bias & the implications of cross-media ownership than the case of the Herald Sun vs the Greens. This is not ‘news’ per se – it’s been covered for example in the minority non-Murdoch press. But as the Alan Ramsey article linked to below shows (read the last paragraph) , it's been a story attracting little interest overall, despite it's significance.

One of the most memorable media articles in the last Federal election was the Herald Sun spectacular "Greens Support Illegal Drugs" by Gerard McManus on August 31 2004. The article, loaded with emotive rhetoric, was an undisguised, virulent attack piece that made a plethora of damaging claims regarding Green Party policy. It was also almost entirely factually false.

The conservative Murdoch-owned Herald Sun in Australia’s largest paper daily, claiming a daily circulation averaging over 500,000 copies. Further, Murdoch owns 60% of Australia’s newsprint media, and the article in question was printed not just in the Herald Sun, but either printed in full or excerpted in Murdoch papers around the country. In Greens Leader Senator Bob Brown’s own words, the article was "…unbelievably damaging to the Greens. In my calculations it cost us hundreds of thousands of votes…"

In November 2004, Brown submitted a complaint to the self-regulation media watchdog, the Australian Press Council (APC), regarding the Herald Sun article, noting "A number of claims in Mr [Gerard] McManus's article were entirely wrong.... I raised my concerns directly with Mr McManus. No correction, written or otherwise, was forthcoming ... Mr McManus did not check any of his claims with me before publication."

In late February this year, the APC upheld Brown’s complaint, and a subsequent appeal by the Herald Sun against its decision was rejected. In a detailed and damning statement, the APC branded the original article "irresponsible journalism" full of "false claims" and "…In the context of an approaching election, the potential damage was considerable ... Readers were seriously misled." [you can read the full APC statement here]

It’s hard to think of a more telling example of bias in our print media’s political commentary. Excellent coverage of the incident was provided by the Sydney Morning Herald’s Alan Ramsey, who’s March 2005 article points us immediately to perhaps the most disturbing element of the entire story:

  • The false claims made in the Herald Sun article were subsequently picked up and used in Liberal Party election advertising – most recently in the 2005 WA election - despite being easily proven to be false by a quick cross-check against the Green’s own website
  • according to Bob Brown, most of the claims in the article "appeared to be sourced from a paper prepared by the Victorian division of the Liberal Party"

No branch of the Liberal Party has ever apologised (nor to my knowledge has the Herald Sun) for this disgraceful misrepresentation for political gain; nor as Alan Ramsey notes, did the Liberal Party support any complaints about this article or any of the Murdoch media’s election coverage – perhaps no surprise when every Murdoch paper editorial endorsed Howard on election day.

With such a blatant alliance between the Howard Government and the Murdoch media, coupled with the unapologetic and unethical dissemination of false information; it is sobering to reflect that if the Howard government succeeds in altering Australia’s cross-media ownership laws, Murdoch will soon be free to also own television and other media, alongside his press stable, in every major city. Just imagine if McManus’s hit piece on the Greens had been regurgitated via a major commercial television station as well.

No wonder Howard wants to ‘reform’ the cross-media ownership laws – it provides a powerful opportunity to reduce further the limited number of media moguls in Australia, and to enhance the control of Howard-friendly moguls such as Murdoch.

Perhaps others will think it a long bow to draw, but I personally find it hard not to see the link between the unholy alliance of the Murdoch press and the Liberal Party targeting the Greens in the last election, the subsequent triumph of Howard’s senate majority, and his immediate push to loosen cross-media ownership laws in favour of his powerful media friends.

Throughout the 2004 election campaign, the Greens were consistently polling a highly probable 4, and as many as 6 Senate seats. They finished with 3. Many didn’t understand why Howard’s first few volleys of the election campaign were aimed at the Greens, but the logic is hard to miss: confident of a lower house victory, Howard was already aiming for the double of a Senate majority – and with Labor in disarray, that relied on ensuring a minimum number of new Green Senators.

And hence we come full circle. The dominant Murdoch press coverage of the Greens during the last election almost certainly damaged the Greens election prospects, especially in the Senate. Arguably in a large part due to this, Howard achieved his Senate majority, and now he’s looking to reward Murdoch – and others- for their support.

Watered down cross-media ownership laws means an almost certain increase in political media bias in Australia. If you haven't already, it's time to write to your representatives and make your feelings known.

loosening media ownership

DUH ! did I read that right?? Knock me down with a feather, didn't I read this stuff about 9 years or so ago, only that time it was in the U.S.?

I knew our esteemed PM was an arse licker to Bush, but reports like this simply are the proof of the pudding.

It also PROVES our Government is nothing but a rubber stamp for U.S. policies, and our polititions I believe are well aware of this, however seeing as they have no desire to "rock the boat" and jeopardise their lucrative Super, they're more then pleased to comply with the orders of their masters.

Australia lost any self government we ever had, the day they brought Whitlam down, who opposed the Global Corporations and had the gall, to try to "buy back the farm" ever since then, every Polly we had, knew exactly what the score is, toe the line, or you're gone.

Regards the media, we've all seen the control enacted via these sources in the U.S. over the last three years, it would appear the Australian media is NOT as compliant yet, as their U.S. masters wish them to be, to allow them TOTAL MIND CONTROL OF THE PUBLIC.

Do you reckon Canberra will fight this??

In your dreams.

Biased media

Once again the Townsville Daily Bulletin has proven it's bias.

Charters Towers National Party MP Shane Knuth has had two female staff quit recently. Rumour has it that workplace bullying was the problem in the case of one of the females involved, but that the second female had complaints of a more personal nature.

All that has surfaced in the media has been an article on page 28 in Brisbane's Sunday Mail and a few lines in Terry Butt's column in today's Townsville Bulletin.

When state Labor minister Merri Rose was facing allegations of workplace bullying in the days leading up the last Qld state election the Townsville Daily Bulletin led the chorus of those media outlets calling for her head.

Obviously it's different strokes for different folks as far as the Bulletin is concerned. Their silence speaks volumes.

Mr Knuth is just a good old boy and perhaps he just needs a holiday.

They tell me Alabama is nice this time of year.

welcome itchyvet

I think 'total mind control' is probably a bit strong - while my world feels increasingly Orwellian, I still stop short of mind control. I do however, wholeheartedly agree that the right wing noise machine in both the USA and increasingly Australia, has done a fine job of turning the fourth estate into a propoganda delivery mechanism. And what people see on the news, they believe.

I note also in your post you talk of both US influence over Howard, and corporate influence on Australia in general. I think there's a complex instersection between the two; for my money, it's the corporations of the world that are the new empires; governments and nations are their satraps & peasants. I think Howard's actions reflect a willingness to sell Australia to the highest corporate bidder in a far more radical fashion than has been the western capitalist 'democratic' norm. In this, he is certainly following the lead of his neo-conservative American friends.

Finally to be clear, I never said that Canberra will fight the watering down of our cross-media ownership laws - certainly not if by Canberra, you mean the incumbent government. I do think there are politicians in Canberra, most of them of a non-conservative flavour, who will be both concerned and willing to oppose this 'reform'. The trick is going to be finding enough Liberals and Nationals with a conscience to block this in the Senate come July 1.

Got any Liberal / Nat senators representing you, you can write to itchyvet? Asm them to vote at the Dome (see link on left hand side bar).

Hi John

Who owns the Townsville Daily Bulletin?

Re: Hi John

Hi Myriad.  The Townsville Daily Bulletin is owned by (Murdoch's) Newslimited.

But I guess that came as no great surprise?

None at all

What I do find interesting though is that Murdoch papers vary in terms of who (Libs, Labor) they support from state to state. For eg, the Hobart Mercury (also known as the Mockery or Muckery) has always been a staunch Labor paper, but you would have thought that would change somewhat from when Rupe got his mits on it.

Not so: - and I attribute that to the fact that the state Labor party here under first Bacon, and now Lennon's leadership, couldn't be more corporate friendly if it tried. See latest forestry deal. It does however give the overall pitiful Lib opposition a good run - far more so than it does the other major opposition party here, the Greens. The Greens have just a few less seats than the Liberals, and are a legitimate large opposition in their own right, but for all the coverage the Mockery gives them you'd think they didn't exist, except as a large questionably legitimate conservation group.

I have forgotten where I was reading or hearing it, but a media commentator was noting that Murdoch's preference is for television over newspapers - basis this analysis on how in the USA he sold all his papers to fund Fox "news". I think that analysis is a bit simplistic. I think cunning Rupe favours whichever medium he thinks suits the particular audience he wants to reach. So it's television mainly in the USA, but in the Uk & here he favours tabloids - probably because (totally my guess) in the UK & Aus there are still publicly funded broadcasters with a responsibility to remain unbiased, and call it when they see it, and have a large amount of credibility, that act as a pretty effective foil to Faux news. Better here & in the UK to use the daily broadsheet then to set the agenda.

Not so in the States, where commercial television reigns supreme.

We All Should be Crossed!

How many wake up calls can we face in our lifetime?

For all of us who rely on, and want to trust, our newspapers, television networks and news magazines, this has been a tough couple of years Auf! Auf! Yet Another Wake-Up Call.


media blues... seeing red

The story about the "holy book threatened to be flushed down a toilet bowl" was not new, nor exclusive to Newsweek. That story appeared in quite a few reports on interviews of Guantanamo detainees, as well as others detainees at least six months before. The real sin of Newsweek was to infer that a US military report or an official US report was going to confirm that, or accept that it ever happened.

In fact the military was not going to deny it (which led Newsweek to believe the official report was going to contain some evidence) nor comment on that possibility because in their eyes "it did not happen", whether it did or not, since it cannot be proven anyway.

It is most likely that Newsweek was fed the truth but the "evidence" if ever recorded won't come out. And Newsweek has been left hanging itself with a true story that can not be substantiated by an official report.

No soldier is going to confirm that story.

Murdoch's minions

Rupert Murdoch has no more commitment to politics than he has to religion: baptised as a protestant presbyterian, he is a papal knight of the Catholic church and in America he is both a Zionist Jew (his mother was the daughter of a Melbourne Jewish businessman) and a member of the extreme Christian right.

He changes his politics like he changes his shirts. He supported Whitlam Labor in the 1972 Australian election then turned against Whitlam when Whitlam ignored him and three years later led the outrageous campaign to destroy Whitlam. In England he supported Thatcher and then switched to Blair. Rupert Murdoch is a chameleon. He is whatever he wants to be at a given time. His sole interest is to make money and wield power. He provides the most powerful propaganda machine on planet Earth for any government which suits his interests.

At the moment he has unfortunately fallen into the hands of powerful New York Zionist money men who saved his company from bankruptcy and possess the power to destroy him if they so choose. He is serving the current US right wing administration and the "Project for the New American Century," whose aim is to control all the world's oil resources because without them the US is finished as a world power.

As to his American interests, he owns only two American newspapers, the New York Post and the San Antonio (Texas) Post-Express. He tried to buy other newspapers there, like the Chicago Sun-Times and the New York magazine but in both cases was stymied by American journalists who refused to work for him.

His prime US media interests today are the worldwide Sky satellite television networks, the Fox movie studio and the notorious Fox cable and free-to-air networks, all of which are fervent apostles of the Bush administration and their pseudo "war on terror."

The news and opinion we get from his Australian papers today is filtered through all of this and mainly exist as cash cows and to influence changes in media ownership soon to be presented by the Howard government.

Hamish: Welcome to Your Democracy Rod, and thanks for reminding us so eloquently of why we are here.

Update courtesy of Crikey, Steve Mayne & Co, 17 June 2005 AD

Coming soon: a disaster for Australian democracy Communications minister Helen Coonan yesterday confirmed what Crikey predicted a few weeks ago – that the government plans to water down the media ownership laws this year. Asked on the ABC's Media Report whether we can expect changes to the laws, she said: "Yes, of course. I mean obviously there needs to be a freeing-up, and the government's policy on both cross media and the relaxation of restrictions on foreign investment that affect the media specifically, will need to be changed." In the extensive interview with Richard Aedy, Coonan wouldn't confirm the other part of Crikey's story – that the new cross media rules would allow companies to own two out of three media – TV, radio and newspapers – in a market, instead of the current one-out-of-three. But she ran hard with the proprietors' line that media companies in Australia should "get an opportunity to be able to make investments to take advantage of innovation and all of the new ways in which media now is available, and to be able to have a very competitive media sector," and read from the proprietors' briefing sheets when she said that: "The whole media landscape has changed, and if we're going to have a thriving media sector and ensure that there is diversity and choice for consumers, we've got to do something about relaxing the sort of lock-step that the current media companies in Australia are undergoing." Coonan also reluctantly acknowledged the obvious – that loosening up the media rules would result in fewer media companies, not more, when she said that the changes "might involve some consolidation." And she made sure she stayed within the Packer guidelines when asked about the possibility of a fourth free-to-air TV channel, with this comment: Well I think in a sense you have to also realise that it's an old model, the free-to-air television model, and with all the innovation that's now available and all the ways in which you can get either TV, data, or TV-like services, there are some real pressures I think, coming up for that standard free-to-air model. So whilst I accept that certainly the industry is currently profitable, it does provide I think a very good service for Australians, and I'd be very reluctant to simply erode that, unless you were really guaranteeing that consumers could get a much better range and diversity of choice without affecting their right to get free-to-air TV, which they value. CRIKEY: Helen Coonan can't deny the obvious – that watering down restrictions on cross-media ownership will result in fewer owners and, therefore, less diversity. But with the media proprietors' script in front of her, she continues to push the line that diversity will improve if Australia has a "thriving media sector." The flaw in the argument is that the "thriving media sector" she and the proprietors want is a sector where media companies buy other media companies and each own bigger slices of the existing media. But without a public debate – which won't happen – the government and the proprietors will get their way, and the country with the highest concentration of media ownership in the developed world will have even more concentrated media ownership. Which will be great for media company shareholders and executives, and a disaster for Australian democracy. Senator Helen Coonan has a lot on her plate A Conversation with the Minister (In the name of democracy ... mea Culpa for reproducing this Steve - I will get another round of Antipodean fries at the Nippon Club ;-) Jozef Virtual Reference

An outright media lie

The complete government control of the media reached an all time high in Australia when Mathew Moore, the Denpassar correspondent for The Age wrote an article titled, "Why Australian marijuana is a big hit in Bali" on May 26th 2005.

Moore makes the argument that so much Australian marijuana is pooring into Bali that it has gained the trade name, "Aussie Gold".  And yet, not one gram of Australian marijuana has ever been siezed and identified in Indonesia.  His argument begins with the assertion that it is not safe for Western tourists in Bali to procure marijuana from Indonesian dealers because more often than not they are working for the police.  In a leap of stupidity he asserts that this is why the tourists are going to Western dealers to buy their drugs.  In effect, he is saying that Western drug dealers are stealing customers from the police who are operating undercover stings and yet no Western dealers have ever been arrested there.  Ever.

This unsupported nonsense was swallowed by the Australian public and never objected to by either the Indonesian or the Australian governments and their implied failures were played down.  Worse, no one in the media or anyone else questioned any of the assertions in the article because it was all part of a bigger media campaign to make some poor tourist look guilty.

For a copy of this article that changed this nation to turn black into white and the only review ever to have been written on it - "The Truth about Aussie Gold".

Possibly wrong but possibly not a lie

After talking to some journos, the concensus is that Mathew Moore is a "good investigative" journalist and he may have been given some wrong (or right in their own minds) information by the Federal Police...  But Journos must double-check from other sources (the David Kelly affair reported by Gilligan in the UK showed that this is not always the case unfortunately). Apparently, on probabilities, Moore is critical of the Federal Police and its bad failures — such as protecting "young" Australians from the death penalty, to catching not many Mister Bigs of drugs. The main reason to doubt the version of the Indonesian and Federal Police on Ms Corby account is that the "evidence" was destroyed very quickly without being tested for a lot of proper forensics, including source of the drugs... On this alone she should not be in jail in Indonesia...