Australian Government Steps Up Rhetoric Over Murdoch Papers

One of the world’s most powerful media executives Rupert Murdoch is learning what it’s like to be enveloped in his own scandal.

Australia's government accused a tabloid paper in Rupert Murdoch's media empire on Monday of campaigning for "regime change". Photo: David Shankbone/Flickr

Stephen Conroy, Communications Minister, for months has bristled at the minority government’s treatment by Murdoch papers. Now he accused the company’s Daily Telegraph tabloid of bias and trying to bring down ruling Labor, which relies on backing from Green and independent lawmakers to stay in power.

Conroy said that News Ltd’s anti-Labor agenda had been obvious to senior ministers since executives attended a recent meeting at Murdoch’s U.S. property at Carmel in California.

Conroy told Australian radio: “It’s decided it wants to have an election. Ignore the fact that we had an election nine or 10 months ago. Ignore the fact the Australian people put in place a parliament with a minority government.” He added: “It has demanded that it knows best and that people should just fall into line with what the Daily Telegraph (says). It is just running a campaign on regime change.”

Mungo MacCallum, a political journalist and commentator who once worked for a Murdoch-owned newspaper, The Australian, said: “There is a feeling that Murdoch has been king of the world for too long and it’s about time that somebody brought him back to Earth.”

Also Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan accused the tabloid last week, as the Australian-born Murdoch flew to London to tackle the political storm over phone hacking at the News of the World paper. The influential Greens have for months accused News Corp’s Australian arm, News Ltd, of having a radical anti-government agenda.

Bob Brown, the Leader of Greens, who has labelled journalists working for New Ltd’s national broadsheet, The Australian, as “hate media”, called last week for a parliamentary inquiry into media laws in the wake of events in Britain, with Prime Minister Julia Gillard agreeing to discuss a review.

News Ltd controls 70 percent of Australia’s newspaper readership market.

Rob Oakeshott, one of the independents who gives the government a one-seat lower house buffer, accused the tabloid of running a “malicious” campaign against him, prompted by his support for Gillard and key policies, including a controversial planned tax on carbon emissions now worrying voters.

Rob commented on this situation earlier this month: “I think it really raises the broader question of media in Australia generally, whether the market is big enough to have a couple of players dominating the marketplace.”

John Hartigan, News Ltd chief, denied last week that there was any widespread campaign against Labor. He affirmed: “We’re the only organisation that really takes it up to the government, and also when they’re at record low levels of public support, I think that endears that sense that, ‘Hey, there’s one organisation out to get us,’ rather than the performance of the party.”

The group’s woes coincide with a decision by Gillard’s government to re-open a bitterly-fought tender involving Murdoch’s part-owned Sky News for the country’s taxpayer-funded overseas TV service.

The unfolding saga threatens to expose Murdoch and his company to legal troubles. News Corp. stock has shed billions of dollars in value. And criminal investigations are under way in Britain, while the FBI has begun a preliminary inquiry in the U.S., where the company’s holdings include the nation’s largest newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, the Fox TV network and the 20th Century Fox movie studio.

Murdoch’s job as News Corp.’s CEO is secure because he controls 40 percent of the company’s voting stock through a family trust and the board is stacked with directors that shareholder activists have long criticized as his cronies. He also remains one of the world’s richest people, although a fortune pegged at $7.6 billion in March by Forbes magazine has been clipped by a 13 percent decline in News Corp.’s stock during the past two weeks.

But the British lawmakers who have traditionally supported Murdoch rather than risk being pilloried in the pages of his newspapers no longer seem to be in his corner because their fear of retaliation is fading. He will surely face tough questions Tuesday when he appears before a Parliament committee eager to grill him about the phone hacking and bribery allegations.

“All the powerful allies that used to help him, either publicly or behind the scenes, have faded to the sidelines,” says Eric Boehlert, a senior fellow at Media Matters, a liberal group that frequently criticizes Fox News for what it says is biased and inaccurate reporting. “He is on his own, and he is in over his head.”

But no one is calling press conferences to gloat about Murdoch’s troubles. Even his bitterest media rivals are keeping quiet.[via Reuters and The Huffington Post]

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