Election 2013 media panel

The good news about News Corp

It was a long day, Day 1 of this five week marathon, most of it spent in front of my TV, flipping between Sky News and ABC 24. In the evening I wound down with some trash reality TV - Married To Medicine is big in my house right now - then back to Sky for Paul Murray Live, and his ‘down, dirty and nasty’ coverage of the election campaign (and he wasn’t kidding).

Mr Murray’s anti-ALP venting reminded me of the UK Sun in the old days - overtly ideological tabloid punditry transferred to TV, with no holds barred. There’s no mistaking this guy’s opinions, entertainingly articulated as they are. More evidence that Sky News and other News Corp outlets are fully signed up for propaganda duty on behalf of the Coalition.

Indeed, Day 1 of the election coverage agenda was dominated by that issue. Apparently there are some observers who think it problematic that News Corp should have come out batting for the Coalition so soon.

Yesterday I speculated as to why this bias is so overwhelming, given the obvious gaps in the detail of opposition policy, and the ALP’s success in managing the Australian economy since 2007. Only Rupert knows the answer to that conundrum. When News Corp in the UK backed Blair in 1997, 2001 and 2005, many believed that deals had been struck behind closed doors. New Labour had gone to Hayman Island for a News Corp meeting, remember, and we all wondered at the time what deals had been done around the poolside. A few years later, Tony Blair was godfather at the christening of Rupert and Wendi’s child. Cozeee…

Today, though, I want to ask a more important question - does it matter, what News Corp does in this campaign? Will it make a difference to outcomes on September 7 if the Telegraph screams on its front page, ‘Kick This Mob Out?’.

Despite the tone of the commentary yesterday, News Corp has form on this kind of intervention. News Corp famously backed Blair at the opening of the 1997 election campaign in the UK, after decades of unswerving pro-Tory bias.

In the US Fox News has been a cheerleader for every kind of wingnut lunacy,not least during the recent presidential campaign.

And yet, Barack Obama won convincingly in 2012. In the UK in 2010, News’ support for the Conservatives did not lead to a majority government, but a half-baked Coalition of Tories and Lib Dems that pleased no-one. The time, if there ever was one, when Murdoch’s editorial support could swing an election is well and truly over.

News Corp is not the influential entity it was before the phone hacking scandal broke, and today wrestles with a constant stream of allegations of corruption and lawbreaking by its staff, from lowly reporters to senior managers. In 2013, Rupert’s vocal support for a political cause may not be the campaigning advantage it was once perceived to be. His Australian properties have not been tarred with the phone-hacking brush, but they can’t be disentangled from the fortunes of News Corp overseas.

I’ll be watching Sky News a lot during this campaign, and reading News Corp press outlets, not without pleasure. Editorial bias aside, News Corp knows its journalism, and can teach Fairfax and the ABC a thing or two when it comes to presentation and style.

I don’t believe that News Corp overage of this campaign will make a material difference to the result, however, anymore than Fox could secure Obama’s defeat in 2012. The days when media barons would use their newspapers like megaphones to proclaim how the rest of us should vote are gone, replaced with a much more complicated and diverse media environment. Murdoch himself once said, in a quote I often relay to my students, ‘power is moving away from those who own and manage the media to a new and demanding generation of consumers - consumers who are better educated, unwilling to be led, and who know that in a competitive world they can get what they want, when they want it’. Fair dinkum, indeed.