Friday, February 19, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

A bad day for News Corp
First Facebook, now Kevin Rudd

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd appears before the Senate inquiry into media diversity today. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

It’s not been a great end to the week for News Corp, facing the one-two punch of the backfire of the news media bargaining code it had championed, and the kick-off of the parliamentary Senate inquiry into Rupert Murdo— I mean, into media diversity. Former prime minister and now e-petitioner Kevin Rudd was first to give evidence to the inquiry this morning, ripping into Murdoch’s monopoly and putting News Corp execs on the back foot – and this was only day one. News Corp is also on the back foot with Facebook, which abruptly cleared the news empire’s many Facebook pages yesterday, but was using its full “artillery” (as Rudd called it) to attack the social media giant for following through on its threats. The government’s luck, meanwhile, went from bad to worse, with more revelations of Liberal staffers abusing women – this time a senior aide in the office of problem child Craig Kelly, with Guardian Australia revealing multiple allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards interns.

The day began with Rudd’s testimony to the Senate media diversity inquiry, prompted by his record-breaking, website-crashing petition, and chaired by Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young. Media outlets may not be able to post to Facebook, but Rudd still can – he shared a link for his followers to watch live, plus a link to the full video afterwards, generating thousands of likes and comments.

Rudd told the inquiry that all politicians – including himself when he was PM – are frightened of Murdoch, with the “Murdoch mob” seeking “compliant politicians”. But while all are afraid, some have extra reason to be. Rudd noted how one-sided the media empire has become, having “campaigned viciously for one side of politics” over the past decade. And, he suggested, it was now going further, attempting to build an “alternative political ecosystem out there on the far right”. He warned that the “Fox News-isation” of the Australian media was well under way, with Sky News as its vehicle, and asked the committee to play a disturbing video of Sky News host Alan Jones interviewing a guest about the “great reset” conspiracy theory, warning of “a coup by the globalist elite”. Rudd also turned attention to the media bargaining code News Corp had championed (and which has caused it so many headaches over the past 24 hours), repeating his warnings that the new laws would only entrench News Corp’s dominance in the market.

News Corp Australia executive chairman Michael Miller was forced to follow Rudd, and while the ex-PM’s comments have received widespread attention, Miller’s were mostly covered by his own mastheads – although, fortunately for him, that’s quite a few. Miller told the hearing that the inquiry itself was evidence of the existence of free speech in Australia, but that Rudd only wanted to hear those he agreed with, and denied his vast array of titles constituted a monopoly, suggesting Rudd’s figures of 70 per cent of newspapers was an outdated way to measure control.

Still, with 70 per cent of Australia’s mastheads, it’s doubtful that any one company lost more Facebook pages in the Thursday morning purge than News Corp, and the media empire is furious that its demands for payment have prompted the tech company to simply take its ball and go home. News Corp, along with much of the mainstream media, has continued to  take shots at Facebook, running editorials saying it has revealed its true colours and unfriended the nation. (Nine Media, the code’s other major proponent/beneficiary, has been running commentary on “How you farewell a Facebook account”.) News Corp seems pretty obsessed with the idea that Facebook’s move has backfired, with op-eds suggesting it is an act of self-harm and that “the biggest victim” could be Facebook itself. Freudian.

Some credit is due at News Corp this week, with Samantha Maiden’s impressive reporting into former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins’s rape allegations having truly dominated the news cycle (in the latest scoop, leaked text messages are casting further doubt over Morrison’s claimed ignorance). The story has been picked up by almost every media outlet in Australia, prompting yet more questions into the toxic workplace culture within the Liberal Party – its “women problem” as it’s euphemistically put. That problem got worse today, with a Guardian Australia report into Frank Zumbo, Craig Kelly’s long-time office manager, who is the subject of an apprehended violence order and multiple allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards interns. Police successfully sought the AVO against Zumbo in September 2020, with a criminal investigation still underway, after he reportedly kissed a 16- or 17-year-old intern on the neck. Zumbo, whose job included hiring and managing interns and work experience staff, is still in his role. Kelly chairs the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement.

Morrison suggested in parliament yesterday that Labor ought to quieten down over the rape scandal, warning menacingly that the issue was not confined to any one party. Perhaps Morrison himself might want to quieten down. It seems likely there are many more rocks to be overturned.

“She’s currently in Morrison’s office. She knew everything about these events. If Morrison says Reynolds should have passed on the information, doesn’t he think Brown should have done so?”

Journalist Michelle Grattan methodically picks apart the prime minister’s timeline on the Parliament House rape allegation, as new evidence comes to light revealing that others in PM’s office were told.

“Diversity is not just about ownership. It’s about the diversity of views and diversity of sources. And importantly, the incredible diversity in the way people now access news and information.”

News Corp executive chairman Michael Miller has hit back at claims the company has a monopoly, suggesting it is the mix of viewpoints, not proprietorship, that matters. Might want to check his opinion pages then.

Episode 400: Sitting week
The Brittany Higgins case has dominated the week in Canberra. This is the story of how the prime minister has responded to her alleged assault, and how he has tried to manage the coverage that followed.

The number of coronavirus vaccine doses that may be lost in New South Wales due to a low-waste syringe shortage, with the state budgeting to lose up to a sixth of its supply in distribution.

“Australian-listed companies with declared ambitions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will have their annual progress published annually in a push by the government to ensure they are paying more than lip service to climate change.”


The government’s new “Corporate Emissions Reduction Transparency” report, to be modelled on the ATO’s corporate tax reporting, will publicly track companies’ progress on climate targets.

The list

“The Foo Fighters’ amplification of fatal misinformation should be on the record, as should the band’s silent and cowardly retreat from it, a successful vanishing act that was enabled by a vapid and transactional music press that cherishes access – however qualified – above all else. Grohl loves talking about rock’s power of soulful confession, but on this there’s only silence.”

“Even its most ardent critics wouldn’t claim the family law courts have an easy task. Child custody cases can be wickedly complex, especially when one or both parents are alleging abuse. Making the wrong decision can be devastating; children may be ordered into the care of an abusive parent, or prohibited from seeing a safe and loving one. They are not easy decisions, and they require great skill and understanding to get right.”

“I didn’t mean to fall in love with glass. A few weeks after I watched the first season of Blown Away – a Netflix reality TV show based on competitive glassblowing – I thought I should try glassblowing at least once in my life … Watching these artists work is like watching athletes. In many ways, glassblowing reminds me of my childhood in rhythmic gymnastics, as the blowpipes and punties become an extension of the body. I cannot look away from the swirls of colours that Andi Kovel, Elliot Walker and Chris Taylor manipulate into mushrooms growing out of plastic-like bottles, a dung beetle, and a Venetian goblet with a convincing sippy-cup lid.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

Image of Health Minister Greg Hunt. Image via ABC News

Supply and demands

State leaders feel the strain over the federal government’s latest vaccine mishap

Image of Health Minister Greg Hunt. Image via ABC News

Another ‘challenge’

The government insists the latest vaccine setback isn’t a big deal

Image of Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack in Question Time. Image via ABC News

A heated environment

Canberra remains stuck in a debate that the rest of the world has moved on from

Image of Immigration Minister Alex Hawke. Image via ABC News

Holding patterns

The Coalition hopes its cruel halfway measure will be enough to make us forget about the Biloela family

From the front page

Image of Health Minister Greg Hunt. Image via ABC News

Supply and demands

State leaders feel the strain over the federal government’s latest vaccine mishap

Alien renaissance

A revived interest in alien visitation only underscores how little we know about the universe

Cartoon image of man with head in the clouds

The return of the lucky country

The pandemic has exposed the truth of Donald Horne’s phrase, and the morbid state of our national leadership

Image from ‘My Name Is Gulpilil’

Like no actor ever: ‘My Name Is Gulpilil’

Molly Reynolds’s beautiful documentary is a fitting tribute to David Gulpilil, at the end of his singular life