For Labor, there is no point in getting into a fight you will never win. The Murdoch myrmidons will always be their enemy, and since they have become invulnerable – like the banks, they are too big to fail — they have to be accommodated.
The news that some 350,000 Australians have signed a petition to set up a royal commission into the media is encouraging – not because their concerns are ever likely to be delivered, but simply because those concerns have have been expressed publicly and with passion.
There is a widespread belief that we have just about given up on the mainstream media, that it has been superseded by the irresponsible and unreliable twitterers of the internet.
Press, radio and free-to-air television are regarded as old fashioned, unsuited to the instant gratifications afforded by the social media. And if they are to survive at all. it has to be on their own terms; no intervention from government and definitely no taxpayer money.
So from that perspective, a royal commission – indeed any form of inquiry – is simply as waste of time and effort.
And in one important, if cynical, sense that perspective is quite right, because even if ten times as many signatories could be found, no prime minister in office or ever likely to be would consider seriously investigating the corporate giants, far less reforming them.
The last who gave it a try was Paul Keating, who unraveled the cross-media regime with his stricture that the moguls could be princes of print or queens of the screen, but not both. His targets were the Packer and Fairfax conglomerates,and ironically in hindsight he provided aid and comfort to the competing Murdochracy.
And now the current government has reversed Keating’s changes, so the Nine network has respread its tentacles across what remains of the media landscape and the Murdoch empire, with its effective control of the Fox cable TV network, is now seen as the arch monopolist, the one in the gun from its most fervent antagonist, another Labor Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.
And as we have seen, impressive numbers have followed. But neither Scott Morrison nor Anthony Albanese is among them. It may be – and I think should be – argued that the influence of the media on public opinion has always been greatly overrated even in its best days, which these are most definitely not. But even in their diluted dotage, the proprietors have the politicians well and truly spooked.
And this has become a bipartisan position, For Labor, there is no point in getting into a fight you will never win. The Murdoch myrmidons will always be their enemy, and since they have become invulnerable – like the banks, they are too big to fail — they have to be accommodated. They cannot be placated, but being conciliatory may perhaps limit their malevolence.
And for the Coalition, it is a no brainer. Rudd calls News Corps not a media organization but a propaganda vehicle to promote the Tories and denigrate their opponents. This may be an exaggeration, but it is not a big one. The Libs and the Nats know perfectly well just who’s in this together.
Which may be a reason, incidentally, why they are so ferocious in their attacks on the ABC. For Murdoch the national broadcaster is not just an ideological foe, it is a commercial rival. And in theory at least, it is accountable to the government, which appoints its board and provides the vast bulk of its funding.
So bashing Aunty is so much easier than responding to a petition from fractious. citizens. Sorry, all you petitioners – your pleas go straight to the shredder, But thanks for your concern. It’s good to know you’re thinking of us.