The day after the election was announced Rupert Murdoch’s Sydney mouthpiece, The Daily Telegraph, splashed the headline “Kick this mob out” over a photo of Kevin Rudd.
That Murdoch is backing the Liberals and attacking Rudd is no surprise. The Liberals are always the preferred option of the ruling class. They are the open party of big business and directly represent their interests. While Abbott is hiding much of his agenda, the anti-union thrust of his industrial relations policy is clear, and he promises a review of Labor’s Fair Work laws to prepare for further changes.
The media’s default position is always anti-Labor. The left’s strength has never been getting good media coverage, but the extent to which unions and social movements provide a counter-balance to ruling class ideas.
Unless there are union or social movement struggles to shift the balance of forces in society, like the ACTU’s Your Rights at Work campaign, which included mass demonstrations and some strikes against Howard’s WorkChoices, then Labor rarely receives ruling class backing.
Murdoch backed Rudd in November 2007 because he could see the writing was on the wall for Howard as a result of opposition to WorkChoices. Labor won the election in a landslide.
At the same time Murdoch had been reassured that Kevin Rudd in 2007 had no intention of breaking with the neo-liberal agenda of the Howard years.
As The Australian commented approvingly at the time, “There are few deep disagreements between the new government and its conservative opponents.”
John Robertson, then the head of Unions NSW, recalled: “Rudd could barely bring himself to mention to word ‘union’ during the [election] campaign.”
Murdoch had also seen the writing on the wall in 1972 and backed Gough Whitlam. He even donated more than $74,000 to Labor’s campaign.
Murdoch told the US Ambassador Marshall Green a couple of years later, “It was essential to have a change after 23 years. [The] Liberal/Country leadership had become increasingly weak intellectually.”
Whitlam would have won anyway. He had come close in October 1969, when Labor won a majority vote of 50.2 per cent but the Liberals retained a majority of seven seats.
By 1972, after 23 years of Liberal rule, the enormous wave of struggles of the late 1960s had moved society to the left.
The movement against the Vietnam War was at its height and workers had staged a general strike in 1969 that got Clarrie O’Shea, a union leader imprisoned for defying anti-strike laws, out of jail.
Murdoch wanted influence over Whitlam’s agenda, so he claimed that he “single-handedly put the present government into office”. This was a signal he wanted his pound of flesh in return.
Murdoch said Whitlam was “very wise” to appoint his former chief of staff, John Menadue, as secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Murdoch had himself employed Menadue for seven years, as News Limited general manager, and described him as “one of the sharpest political minds in Australia”.
When the economy went into crisis in 1974-75, the Australian ruling class wanted a government that would wage war on the unions. The Liberals had replaced the inept Billy Snedden, who lost the May 1974 election, with the ruthless Malcolm Fraser.
Governor General John Kerr met with Murdoch at a social function at the Murdochs’ country estate at Cavan, near Yass, NSW in late 1974.
Prominent press gallery correspondent Ian Fitchett, who was present, said Kerr gave Murdoch a “very detailed and elaborate outline” of his constitutional options as Governor-General in the event that the opposition secured the Senate numbers to block the budget.
Outrageously Kerr sacked the democratically elected Whitlam government in November 1975.
Kerr replaced Whitlam with Liberal Opposition leader Malcolm Fraser as caretaker prime minister.
Murdoch’s campaign against Whitlam was so vicious that his editorial line led journalists on The Australian to strike. They burned copies of the paper in the streets.
Seventy-five of them wrote a letter complaining that the newspaper was “a propaganda sheet” and had become “a laughing stock”.
The mass media obviously has some influence over people’s ideas. It can set the agenda and the boundaries of “legitimate” debate.
Cleverly-written articles can confirm people’s existing prejudices by offering them a highly selective and confected version of reality, reflecting and amplifying the reactionary views people hold.
At its worst, the media can reinforce racist and sexist ideas. But those ideas do not originate in the media—they come from the capitalist society we live in.
The media shapes our views of the world. But it does not control them. As Murdoch’s empire is shaken by scandals, we shouldn’t fall into the trap of believing that.
By Tom Orsag