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Murdoch and the marginals

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  • World View
    Like all his newspapers throughout the world, Murdoch s harnessed team in Australia follows the path paved with his interests and his world-view (which is
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 6 8:25 PM
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      Like all his newspapers throughout the world, Murdoch's harnessed
      team in Australia follows the path paved with his "interests" and
      his world-view (which is crystallised in the pages of his Weekly
      Standard in Washington, the voice of America's "neo-conservatives").

      "Personally creating outcomes"
      by Antony Loewenstein
      October 4, 2004

      "As a small media pond inhabited by large sharks, Australia today is
      a breeding ground for censorship by omission, the most virulent
      form. Like all his newspapers throughout the world, Murdoch's
      harnessed team in Australia follows the path paved with
      his "interests" and his world-view (which is crystallised in the
      pages of his Weekly Standard in Washington, the voice of
      America's "neo-conservatives"). They echo his description of George
      W. Bush and Tony Blair as "heroes" of the Iraq invasion and his
      dismissal of the "necessary" blood they spilt, and they consign to
      oblivion the truths told by history, such as the support Saddam
      Hussein received from the Murdoch press in the 1980s.

      "One of his tabloids invented an al-Qaeda training camp near
      Melbourne; all of them promote the Australian elite's obsequiousness
      to American power, just as they laud Prime Minister John Howard's
      vicious campaign against a few thousand asylum-seekers, who are
      locked away in camps described by a United Nations inspectors as
      among the worst violations of human rights he had seen."

      John Pilger (editor), Tell Me Lies: Investigative Journalism and its
      Triumphs (Jonathan Cape, 2004).


      Warrick Costin is News Limited's Canberra Business Manager. In April
      and May of this year he prepared a guide to 30 of the most marginal
      seats in the country. To be used by executives and senior staff, the
      documents provide invaluable insights into the way Murdoch
      publications attempt to subvert the political process in Australia.

      A Webdiary investigation reveals that similar marginal seat guides
      have been written for at least the previous four or five elections.
      Costin acknowledged this when I called him in Canberra. The internal
      documents are published at Limited News, and display a deep
      knowledge of the major concerns of voters in key electorates,
      including religion and education. The aim of the documents is clear -
      to select certain stories and angles to influence voters in
      marginal seats. Nothing is explicit, however - a more subtle
      approach is utilised.

      In Bruce Page's The Murdoch Archipelago (Simon & Schuster, 2003), he
      explains the way that Murdoch plays the political game:

      "He did not suppose he could personally create election outcomes.
      His concern was creating obligations."

      For example, The Australian thoroughly favoured a Labor win in 1972,
      and Page suggests that Murdoch wanted to be the Australian High
      Commissioner in London as a reward. He even worked on a victory
      speech he thought Whitlam should give to the nation.

      In 2004, however, the Murdoch empire supports whatever party will
      best serve its business interests. As James Fallows wrote in The
      Atlantic's profile in September 2003:

      "[Murdoch] is principally a businessman. (What drives him) is not
      ideology but a cool concern for the bottom line – and the belief
      that the media should be treated like any other business, not as a
      semi-sacred public trust."


      The Australian Gazette is a daily news sheet produced by a senior
      News Ltd staff member and read by Rupert Murdoch himself. Take this
      example of April 6, 2004. Mark Latham's "ill-considered policy of
      cut and run in Iraq" is highlighted (reflected in the latest quoted
      Newspoll) as well as the retirement of Communications Minister
      Richard Alston. The desired result is made clear: "[a new minister]
      will hopefully clear the decks for a minister (or gulp, shadow
      minister) with a better grasp of the portfolio after the election".
      A "better grasp" refers to the Murdoch aim of further deregulation
      of the media sector and a loosening of the cross media laws.

      Take a look at The Gazette of May 11, 2001 and it becomes clear that
      the document is written specifically for Murdoch himself, even
      mentioning the media's coverage of his wedding to Wendi Deng.

      The edition of April 7, 2004 explains the supposed thought processes
      of 'aspirational voters' in the mortgage belt around Sydney and why
      they elect John Howard.

      The documents highlight the Murdoch fear of a Labor Federal
      government and coverage in The Australian and his tabloids over the
      last year have consistently shown contempt for the ALP and new
      leader Mark Latham, especially on the issues of Iraq and industrial
      relations. A corporate strategy to undermine the Opposition's
      message is explained and given context.

      When contacted by Webdiary, Murdoch's Corporate Affairs Manager
      Janet Fife-Yeomans confirmed the authenticity of the documents but
      said there was nothing "sinister" about them:

      "Neither the government nor the opposition had anything to do with
      it. Nor does News Limited have any electoral preferences for October
      9. News Limited's editorial is shaped by the news of the day."

      ABC's Media Watch examined some of the documents in September,
      specifically the claim that before the 2001 election News Ltd tried
      to convince the ALP to advertise its education policy in its media.
      Amazingly, no media organisation further investigated the internal
      News Ltd documents after the airing of Media Watch.


      When Warrick Costin launched this year's marginal seats guide to
      News Ltd employees, his speech was a rallying cry to the troops.
      Marginal seats issues were outlined and various seats were broken
      down into areas to be targeted.

      Take the Liberal held seat of Eden Monaro. For what reason, other
      than to assist slanted coverage, would journalists need to know the
      number of dependent children, household income, number of taxpayers
      and single parents?

      A representative of the Limited News website explains:

      "If it is merely journalism, why has it been left to a senior
      Business Manager to prepare the document and present it to
      employees? It is smart, because it does not target a political
      parties, it targets issues and individual politicians. Bias starts
      within the news coverage itself, in the choice of issues and their

      Michelle Byrne is the Labor MP for the marginal Tasmanian seat of
      Bass. The News Ltd guide in April includes this comment:

      "...some of the major concerns of the people of Bass are on the
      themes of safety and security."

      Michael Organ is the Greens MP for the NSW seat of Cunningham. News
      Ltd's hysterical scare campaign against the Greens during the
      election campaign is given further context with this material on the

      Neither Costin nor Fife-Yeomans would discuss details of the
      marginal seats guide.

      Examining the dozens of documents - see the summary of the seats -
      reveals an easy-access guide to News Ltd journalists as to how
      certain issues and coverage could affect voters in marginal seats.

      Last Sunday's page one story in Murdoch's biggest paper, The Sunday
      Telegraph continues the anti-Latham scare campaign. The paper's
      editorial was even more unequivocal:

      "Mr. Howard has served this country well as Prime Minister,
      delivering eight years of unparalled prosperity, protecting its
      borders and taking a firm stand against the extremists who threaten
      our very way of life. A vote for the Coalition on October 9 is a
      vote for prudence, responsibility and security. Mr. Howard's team
      deserves a fourth term."


      Murdoch was a major cheerleader of the Iraq war. He said before the

      "The greatest thing to come out of this for the world
      economy...would be $20 a barrel for oil. That's bigger than any tax
      cut in any country."

      All of his Australian papers followed their master's voice (see this
      Guardian piece for more information).

      And true to form, all of Murdoch's Sunday papers editorialised this
      week for another Howard term. The News Limited internal documents
      give insight as to the reasons behind this uniformity – the
      Coalition will be more amenable to Murdoch's business and strategic

      It is interesting to note, however, that The Australian's anti-
      Saddam stance is a relatively new phenomenon. Eddie Davers reveals
      in an Overland study that The Australian strongly supported the Iraq
      dictator during the 1980s:

      "The US defines its allies not by their values but by their
      obedience. Saddam Hussein was obedient during the period of his
      worst atrocities, and was therefore an ally. His disobedience
      attracted the wrath of the US. And disobedience, in the final
      analysis, is the standard applied by The Australian."

      "(During the 1980s) the reason for the pro-Iraqi coverage is the
      same as that for the pro-Israeli (and pro-Indonesian) coverage -
      obedience. The US was pro-Iraqi because Iraq performed a function.
      Its utility, not its power, earned it the support of the US, and of
      corporate media like The Australian."

      The Limited News files show that commercial interests supercede
      other considerations. The April 9, 2004 edition of the Australian
      Gazette provides specific directions on the Murdoch "line" to be
      taken on Iraq, and not one Murdoch editor in Australia has shifted
      from this required editorial position.

      An Australian Gazette of April 12, 2004 further articulates the
      editorial directive of playing down the growing insurgency in Iraq:

      "It is little wonder that some people are confused about the
      situation in Iraq. The SMH features on its world page, under the
      headline 'How GI bullies are making enemies of their Iraqi friends',
      a piece by Paul McGeough explaining that Iraqis that detested Saddam
      are now united against a new perceived oppressor. And Fairfax cannot
      believe their flagship is losing credibility..."


      The marginal seats guide was completed before the Howard
      government's last budget and released in time for a possible early
      election. The release of Outfoxed gives us an even clearer picture
      of the ways in which Murdoch and his senior staff slant and twist
      news to fulfil a right-wing agenda and subvert the democratic
      process. The Atlantic's James Fallows:

      "The political component in Murdoch's media operation is larger than
      people inside the company admit – and perhaps larger than they
      believe. But it is smaller than most people who dread Murdoch's
      influence assume. He is principally a businessman of conventional
      business-conservative views, who vents those views when possible but
      now when they interfere with any important corporate goal."

      The Limited News documents provide invaluable evidence of a media
      organization determined to achieve power at any cost. Next time a
      Murdoch newspaper echoes its master's voice on the moral rightness
      of the Iraq war, remember The Australian's Foreign Editor Greg
      Sheridan describing a mass murderer closer to home, Indonesia's
      Suharto. He called the dictator "a monster of the Left's
      imagination" and "even in human rights there is a case for Suharto".
      The Murdoch broadsheet supported his reign because, like subsequent
      US administrations, Murdoch "defines [his] allies not by their
      values but by their obedience" (Eddie Davers, Overland 2003).



      Antony Loewenstein writes Webdiary's Engineering Consent column on
      the workings of the media. For an introduction to Murdoch's way, see
      Holding the line at news.



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