Does Australia Control its Media, or Does Media Control Australia?
China and Australia are going through a “war of words” at the moment and it’s being fuelled by government representatives making outrageous claims, journalists telling exaggerated stories about imagined persecution and surveillance and unfounded news stories about perceived wrongs being carried out in China by a government that (from a Chinese perspective) isn’t doing anything wrong.
The problem seems to stem from one man — (Keith) Rupert Murdoch. His influence in Australia, its politics and relationships with China are quite something.
He was once the owner of the South China Morning Post (SCMP) but unable to expand into the Chinese market, sold it in 1993 to a Chinese owned company (Now owned by Alibaba’s Jack Ma). Also, in 1993, Murdoch failed in $237m bid to become a major shareholder in TVB because China would not allow HK to relax Foreign Ownership laws. Around the same time Murdoch was controlling Star TV which broadcasts from HK to 30 South East Asian countries making it one of the most popular Asian TV channels but the return on investment has been lower than anticipated because China would does not allow expansion into the Mainland. In 1999, Murdoch married Chinese born Wendi Deng, one of the executives of Star TV but divorced after (according to reports in the Wall Street Journal) some problems with her allegedly working for Chinese Intelligence services.
Because Newscorp, which is owned and operated by the Murdoch family is a Bermudan registered company, profits it makes in Australia are relatively low in the tax bracket and, after a long running court case, in 2014, received a tax rebate of 880 million Australian dollars. A considerable amount in a country that has only 26 million citizens and a GDP of only $1.45tn AUD at the time.
The strangest part of this story is that the 28-day appeal process which was allowed for the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), took place during a general election and Newscorp with its many media arms came out heavily in favour of the opposition, the current government of Australia, which now seems to enjoy favourable coverage and much support from Murdoch’s media recently receiving a $30m grant.
Back in 2017, the Australian government handed $30m to Foxtel to allow it to broadcast underreported sports. The government has never explained why they did this and efforts to find information on the decision making process under Freedom of Information (FOI) laws have been thwarted because apparently no such documentation exists: (https://thenewdaily.com.au/entertainment/tv/2017/07/19/foxtel-sport-funding-documents/). There are several “free to air” TV stations in Australia including the government owned and operated SBS and ABC. Neither of which experienced such largesse from the government during the same period, in fact, both experienced relative (to CPI) cuts in their operational budget.
Rupert Murdoch was once an Australian citizen who gave up his country to become an American in order to satisfy foreign ownership laws in the USA. He started small and has built one of the biggest media empires in the world. He’s personal friends with, and has a volatile (if we believe the newspapers) relationship with Trump. Lending support through highly biased reporting on Fox news.
So, what does this have to do with Australia? We now know that Murdoch has many reasons to dislike China, we know he promotes Trump and Republicans. Disruption of the relationship between Australia and its biggest trading partner, China, seems to be an end goal fuelled by his dislike and distrust of China whilst supporting US policies.
Looking at the Australian market, Newscorp is a function of everyday life. In terms of newspapers, it owns the top selling newspaper in the 6 states and 2 territories in Australia. Just to take one State, Queensland as an example, Newscorp owns the Courier-Mail, the only state wide daily newspaper and Queensland’s only Sunday newspaper; it also owns the Brisbane News — in other words, if you want to read the news in Brisbane, you will be reading Newscorp. But it goes deeper. If you think you can get different, less biased news, by purchasing a regional newspaper, think again. In Queensland, a State with a population of only 5.19 million, Newscorp publishes a total of 23 papers in the capital city, Brisbane (pop 2.5m) and 19 regional papers covering the entire state. Queensland is not the only state with such comprehensive coverage, in fact, throughout Australia Newscorp, under the control of the Murdoch family owns 162 publications in total— all this in a population of only 25.6 million.
If you wish to avoid buying a newspaper and get your news online, you might go to News.com.au, but once again you’d be getting the news from Newscorp. There are also 21 magazines in the Newscorp stable, so if you think you can get away by reading sports, lifestyle, cooking or business, there’s a strong possibility you will be reading Newscorp again. If you decide to watch TV, switch on Sky news, Foxsport or The Australian News Channel and there you are again. So, you think it might be better to go onto the “free to air” channels and find out what’s going on in the real world: be careful One of them, Channel Ten, is partly owned by Foxtel which is owned by Newscorp which is owned by Murdoch. Cleverly, the ownership laws and monopoly laws have been followed by purchasing 0.1% less of the “controlling interest” percentage that the government has deemed to be acceptable.
In fact, there isn’t a way, in Australia that you can read, see, search, surf or listen to news without some aspect of Murdoch influence.
Australia recently wrote new “Foreign Interference Laws”. Given that Murdoch is an American, his company is registered in Bermuda and his tentacles are in every aspect of news media, perhaps Australia should look to its own legal system and ask itself if foreign interference is really coming from the direction in which they keep looking.