The calls for a Royal Commission into the Murdoch media empire in Australia continue to gain traction, with advocates highlighting the need to address media diversity and outdated regulations.
While there may not be strong public support for an inquiry at this stage, proponents argue that it is long overdue and necessary for the benefit of the public. Among those pushing for the inquiry is Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who recently introduced a Bill in the Senate to establish the investigation.
In a recent interview on New Politics, Senator Hanson-Young emphasised the pressing need for an inquiry into the role of News Corporation in Australia’s media landscape.
She pointed out the concentration of media ownership in the country and the inadequacy of current regulations, which fail to address the rapidly changing media environment and the growing distrust of news among the public. The Senator highlighted the influence of the Murdoch press as a ‘negative influence’ on both the media and political landscapes in Australia, stressing the urgency of reducing or eliminating this influence.
The difficulty of reforming the media
The push for an inquiry gained significant attention in 2020 when former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd initiated a petition calling for a Royal Commission into the Murdoch media. The petition garnered a record-breaking 500,000 signatures, reflecting widespread concerns about media concentration and ownership.
While Rudd has since been appointed as ambassador to the United States, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has taken up the cause, joining the ranks of vocal critics against the Murdoch empire. However, critics point out the irony of these former politicians’ current stance, considering their lack of action on media reform while in office. The relationship between political leaders and media magnate Rupert Murdoch continues to be a subject of scrutiny, with potential Prime Ministers usually seeking his approval in New York, prior to each federal election.
Addressing the apparent difficulty in achieving media reform, Senator Hanson-Young acknowledged the reluctance of governments to challenge the unparalleled power of Murdoch and his media empire. She cited the lack of action by members of parliament when they possess the power to enact change, contrasting it with their vocal criticism once they are no longer in office.
To overcome this challenge, she believes a Royal Commission would be an effective pathway to shed light on the negative impact of the Murdoch press and the need for substantial reform. Drawing attention to the Murdoch media’s role in perpetuating conspiracy theories, influencing elections, and impeding climate action globally, Senator Hanson-Young also stressed the importance of exposing these issues and building public expectations for change.
Public interest journalism
Senator Hanson-Young commended the recent reporting by Nine Media in their coverage of the activities of the Special Air Service (SAS) in Afghanistan, which exemplified the essence of public interest journalism. However, to restore trust in the media, she emphasised the need for stronger regulations that hold powerful media interests accountable.
The existing regulatory bodies, such as the Press Council and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), are ineffective in addressing complaints and lacking the necessary authority. Defamation laws were also seen as a tool that can be misused to suppress public interest reporting. Senator Hanson-Young called for comprehensive reforms in these areas to ensure a fair and effective system of media accountability.
There is also the strained relationship between the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and News Corporation, where a deliberate campaign by News Corp to diminish the ABC’s credibility and influence has been a longstanding concern. Senator Hanson-Young called on the ABC to stand up against the attacks and not allow itself to be undermined by the Murdoch empire.
Media reform can be achieved
Senator Hanson-Young stressed the importance of balancing freedom of the press with tighter controls on media behaviour, but addressing media ownership concentration, the need for a growth in independent journalism, and better and more effective regulation. There are successful broadcasting and media models in Nordic countries, which combine strong public broadcasters, private sector media, and support for smaller and independent media, underpinned by a unified regulatory framework that upholds quality journalism and the public interest. Solutions in other countries exist and currently operating successfully: why can’t Australia implement similar reforms?
The Murdoch media empire and its influence on the Australian media landscape are under scrutiny. The outcome of these current discussions and investigations will shape the future of media regulation in the country, with the aim of fostering a diverse, accountable, and trustworthy media environment that serves the public interest.