News Corp hits back at Rudd’s claims
News Corp executive chairman Michael Miller has hit back at claims from Kevin Rudd the company holds too much of a monopoly in media, also telling an inquiry all editors were free to choose what they published.
Speaking at a senate committee on Friday, Mr Miller said Australians accessed their information from a range of sources on different mediums.
“The old habits of reading just one newspaper, choosing one radio or TV station, are being replaced by a world embracing unlimited information,” he said.
“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.
“Australians are smart people who make up their own minds about what media they consume, who they back politically, and what they feel.”
Mr Miller also told the inquiry every News Corp editor had the right to choose what they published.
“I don’t give direction to editors about what to publish politically,” he said.
He said he did not always agree with the opinions of News Corp editors and columnists, but defended their right to voice those opinions.
News Corp Executive Campbell Reid denied Mr Rudd’s earlier assertion to the inquiry the company engaged in “character assassinations”, saying much of that occurred on social media.
“It’s not character assassination to closely examine the actions of people in public life,” he said.
“I regard (our coverage) as tough scrutiny, and don’t regard it as character assassination.”
Mr Miller and Mr Reid were also asked about News Corp’s newswire service, set up in 2020 when it looked as if long-running newswire service AAP would be forced to shut permanently.
Mr Reid said the service was “designed to cover breaking news as it is occurring”. It serviced News Corp’s mastheads, he added.
The former chair of AAP, Mr Reid said he was “personally delighted” the AAP newswire service survived, after it almost shut permanently last year.
He rejected a suggestion from Senator Kim Carr that News Corp encouraged the closing down of AAP.
“Newswire services globally are under immense pressure,” he said.
Earlier during the inquiry, Mr Rudd outlined his call for a royal commission into media diversity in Australia, arguing News Corp held undue sway over Australia’s print press.
Mr Rudd said he was fearful of News Corp during his time as prime minister, arguing politicians had an incentive to keep the company onside.
“The truth is, as prime minister, I was too fearful of the Murdoch media beast. That’s just the truth of it. I could pretend that I wasn’t, but I was,” he said.
“The Murdoch media monopoly is the monopoly which dare not speak its name. We can’t mention the M word, because we know it invites retribution.
“That’s just dead wrong for any democracy.”
Mr Rudd argued with News Corp owning 70 per cent of the country’s print press, Australians needed to look “carefully and deeply” at its media laws.
But Mr Miller said Mr Rudd looked at the media only “through the prism of print”, which was in sharp decline.
“To look at media through the prism of just print, which is sharply declining, I think is not the way to consider how people consume media today,” he said.
He accused Mr Rudd of misleading the inquiry by repeatedly stating News Corp held 100 per cent ownership over Queensland’s print press. He said the company actually printed just six of the state’s 46 newspapers.
Under questioning from Liberal Senator Gerard Rennick, Mr Rudd conceded News Corp did not own any free-to-air television stations.
Mr Rudd also argued the media group, owned by Rupert Murdoch, “campaigned viciously for one side of politics” in the last 19 state and federal elections.
But Liberal Senator David Fawcett questioned Mr Rudd over his claim a News Corp monopoly in Queensland had a serious political impact.
Senator Fawcett said given Labor had won eight of the last nine elections in the state, and the ABC was considered Australia’s most trusted broadcaster, Mr Rudd’s fears were overblown.
Mr Rudd also claimed News Corp had run a campaign against climate change.
“We have seen a rolling systematic campaign against climate change action in this country,” he said.
“It has had a palpable effect on the politics.”
But Mr Miller told the inquiry Mr Murdoch was a believer in the science of global warming.
“He (has) made it clear, we are not climate change deniers. Climate change is real,” he said.
He quoted Mr Murdoch’s own words from 2006, when the News Corp founder said “the planet deserves the benefit of the doubt”.
Mr Miller said comments by former prime ministers Mr Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull about climate change policy was “a convenient diversion for their own failings”.
He rejected suggestions there was a “misinformation campaign” and said he believed last year’s bushfires were exacerbated by climate change.
News Corp printed 3000 stories around the time of the bushfires, many referencing climate change as a causal factor, Mr Miller said.
Mr Reid told the inquiry Australia lost an opportunity to rightly celebrate the achievements of Julia Gillard but it was a “flight of fantasy” to blame News Corp newspapers for her leadership demise.
He said the then PM had an incredibly fragile hold on government and was being undermined by her closest colleagues in the Labor Party to “bring her down”.
Those actions were reported by the newspapers, but he rejected suggestions this was in any way orchestrated for leadership change.
News Corp executives also rejected suggestions earlier posed by Senator Sarah Hanson-Young on the company having an issue with women.
Senator Mehreen Faruqi then accused Sky News of having racism as a business model and challenged the background of various columnists including Andrew Bolt.
She questioned whether News Corp promoted white nationalism and Islamophobia and questioned what links staff had to these themes.
Senator Faruqi specifically pressed the executives on Lauren Southern, who regularly appears on Sky News.
Ms Southern has been accused of peddling the ‘Great Replacement’ theory, a far-Right conspiracy theory also propagated by the Christchurch terrorist who murdered 51 Muslims in 2019.
Senator Faruqi asked whether, if it was proven Ms Southern had promoted the theory, she would be taken off News Corp’s payroll.
“I’d be considering it. I’d have to discuss it and understand the issue,” Mr Miller said.
“It concerns me what you’ve said, and I take it very seriously.”
Mr Miller said race was often discussed as an issue in coverage and increasing awareness and diversity within the business was a priority.
Senator Faruqi asked whether reporting would be less racist if there was more diversity among News Corp staff.
Mr Miller replied having a diverse staff with diverse skills was always important.
Later, Australian Associated Press CEO Emma Cowdroy told the inquiry the organisation’s majority shareholders, News Corp and Nine, decided to walk away from the newswire in March last year.
“A mere 10 months after Mr Murdoch had acknowledged our vital role, AAP’s majority shareholders, being the two largest media companies in the country, resolved to bring its long history of independent factual and accurate news reporting to an end,” she told the inquiry.
Nine CEO Hugh Marks cast doubt on the AAP’s financial viability, telling the inquiry it had proven a “poor allocation” of Nine’s resources.
“We wanted to continue to invest and AAP was not delivering the content that we wanted for our model going forward,” he said.
But Ms Cowdroy said AAP, which was bought by a consortium, played a “vital role in ensuring an accurate and independent coverage”.
“There is no doubt that one of the most important wholesale suppliers of news content in nearly every country is the national newswire,” she said.
“Newswires provide a critical pillar of competition and diversity in news media landscapes.”
News Corp is the publisher of this article.
Originally published as News Corp hits back at Rudd’s claims