BRIAN COYNE. Rupert Murdoch and the increasing division in society

Following the sensational demand from Archbishop Vigano for the resignation of Pope Francis, Michael Sean Winters wrote a commentary in National Catholic Reporter wondering if the right wing in the Church was about to launch a schism. The following commentary by the editor of catholica, Brian Coyne, was written suggesting all of society is heading for division and schism at the moment and our Australian mate Rupert Murdoch has to take much of the blame.

I think our world at the moment is becoming increasingly divided. The possibility of schism is very real. And it’s not just a church or religious problem as witnessed to by the riots in Germany on the weekend orchestrated by right wing extremists over the refugee question.

It’s ironical and logic-defying in a way: by some measures we (humanity as a whole) have never been as blessed with affluence and knowledge as we are today. Since the end of the Second World War we’ve known nothing but relative peace in the educated, affluent, first world. Yet, quite suddenly, this huge division seems to be opening up — and it is seen across our globe.

Australia’s most notorious, and wealthiest, export…

I think we Aussies have to take some of the blame for this because of one of our most notorious, and wealthiest, exports — Rupert, the global media tycoon, who influences so much in public opinion across this planet today.

Advertisers are the life blood of any publisher but more so large scale commercial newspaper and media proprietors. Advertising revenue is intimately linked to audience size. The competition provided by these new media has been devastating for all media owners seeking a mass audience. The former “rivers of gold” provided by classified advertising have dried up as people have switched to advertising on the internet in such places as e-Bay. Whether we’re talking about political parties or media proprietors the competition has been on to find large cohorts of the population who can be communicated to at the least cost per member of the population. We’re all familiar with the competition for the so-called “youth vote”, the “seniors vote”, the “migrant or ethnic vote”, the “women’s vote”, “religious vote” etc.. A few decades ago now Rupert stumbled on the best one of them all: about a third of any population operate at a shallow, principally emotional level of thinking and behaviour. It’s a far more “cohesive” sector of the population than any other. It’s the sector of humanity who operate principally at the “fight or flight” level of their emotions.

It’s relatively easy, and cheap, to “stir them up” either through over-the-top sentimentality, or fear and outrage — themselves almost polar opposite communication tools. Another of the ironies is that this sector seems to show no distinction across other factors such as wealth, health or levels of educational attainment. Even people with high academic achievements can be basically insecure and fearful. Perhaps Rupert learned it from the Catholic Church which has long had an understanding of the value of fear, and over-the-top sentimentality, in motivating, or controlling, large populations.

Rupert was primarily trying to shore up his crumbling readership audiences against the assault on them coming from all these new media competitors. He passed the lesson on to politicians. This (roughly) one third of any population when added to the 20 or 30% who’d vote for the same party even if it was led by a drovers dog, or an imbecile, was critical for politicians in getting the majority necessary to form a government. Rupert has shown them it was relatively cheap to “stir up the lizard brain” and fear in society. Other commercial media proprietors, particularly talk-back shock jocks have turned it into a new “art form”. These “stirred up” audiences themselves have a secondary benefit in that they themselves provide “great entertainment” for others watching them, or listening to them. It’s an audience that, in a sense, “feeds on itself”.

Do you remember the “Tampa Affair”?

Here in Australia, former prime minister, John Howard, was the first to successfully apply the “lesson learned from Rupert” via the Tampa Affair — stopping a bunch of refugees who had been rescued by a commercial ship, the M.V. Tampa, on the high seas north of Australia, reaching Australia. It won Howard an election. Howard’s acolyte, Tony Abbott, who subsequently became prime minister via the slogan “stop the boats” had also been schooled at the feet of Rupert. Prior to becoming a politician, Abbott had actually worked for Rupert as a writer and journalist. It’s a simple formula: stir up the lizard brain and perpetual insecurities and fears that reside just below the surface in every human heart and you’ve created “a friend for life”. Donald Trump has taken it to an entirely new level. We (humanity as a whole) are yet to experience what sort of final harvest it delivers.

One of the big challenges at the moment is that the sector of the population attracted to having their emotions stirred up are totally unlikely to be reading Michael Sean Winters, NCR, catholica, John Menadue or listening to the ABC, the BBC, the CBC, or NPR. (Do you understand now why Rupert wants to shut down all the public broadcasters of the world?)

One of the worrying things today is that all of the major political parties around the world are either single mindedly pursuing this 30% of the population who live out their lives predominantly at a shallow, emotional level, or, they are trying to ensure their opposition isn’t the one getting any kind of exclusive hold on their loyalty — and their votes. Ultimately “the game” is all about winning the 51% of the votes necessary to win an election — and that 30% is critical as a “block vote” towards that end, or in the case of commercial media proprietors it is securing the loyalty of that sector of the population in terms of retaining their advertising revenue when all media today are facing unprecedented competition from all these new media channels that people have available to them today.

The challenge facing the Catholic Church is the same…

It’s basically the same factor at work in not just the Catholic Church but virtually all religions (witness the religious unrest in India and other countries around the world). Humanity is becoming increasingly divided today and it is not actually insane to think that a schism that makes all the previous schisms of history look like a Sunday School picnic might be a real possibility. We are dealing here with forces in the human psyche that are more powerful than just about anything else known to humanity. People who play with those forces are playing with something even more powerful than fire and nuclear explosions.

Brian Coyne is editor and publisher of the website catholica.com.au

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John Laurence Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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