Ousted PM Rudd's #MurdochRoyalCommission push gains momentum (updated)

A social media campaign which began over the weekend calling for an inquiry into the power of Rupert Murdoch's media empire had garnered a million views and 366972 petition signatures by the morning of October 22.

This despite visitors to the Australian Parliament House website reporting problems and crashes, with a note on the site urging them to "please try later".

The Twitter campaign under the #MurdochRoyalCommission hashtag - which actually dates to 2018 - was revived on Saturday with a video in which former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd expresses "growing anger" at what he says the Murdoch media monopoly is doing to the country.

It follows a YouTube video last month in which Rudd questioned the impartiality of the ACCC's news media bargaining code and his suspicions of motives when the government "produces legislation to make the Murdoch media feel really happy".

In the current campaign, petitioners are "deeply concerned by: mass-sackings of news journalists; digital platforms impacting on media diversity and viability; Nine Entertainment's takeover of the Melbourne Age and Sydney Morning Herald; News Corp's acquisition (and then closure) of more than 200 smaller newspapers, undermining regional and local news; attempts to replace AAP Newswire with News Corp's alternative; and relentless attacks on the ABC's independence and funding".

It also raises journalists' concerns about "unjust searches, potential prosecution, whistle-blower protection, official secrecy and dispute resolution". They ask for a Royal Commission to be established "to ensure the strength and diversity of Australian news media". The closing date for signatures is November 4.

Recent weeks have seen increasing media analysis of the power and position of the Murdoch media companies, with Australia's ABC broadcasting a three-part BBC documentary, Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty about the family, and Al Jazeera presenting a 26-minute report on what it calls "Murdoch's misinformation" over COVID-19, China and climate change.

While the Royal Commission call may stand little ultimate chance of success, it serves to throw a spotlight on News Corp's increasing influence in Australia, the US and the UK, and has brought recollections of previous attempts at curbing it.

One Twitter follower posted a picture reprising the 30-year-old campaign urging Liverpool residents and visitors not to buy Murdoch-owned UK tabloid The Sun. In June, rival the Daily Mail claimed it had overtaken The Sun's monthly print circulation for the first time in 42 years to become the country's best selling daily newspaper.

The wide-ranging BBC documentary discussed News' role in the election of Labor politician Tony Blair as UK prime minister, the "creation" with UKIP leader Nigel Farage of an environment in which Brexit "could happen", and of course the shame of the News of the World's phone-hacking activities, and their impact on News' cable TV ambitions and the career of James Murdoch.

Both Rudd, and another former prime minister of a different political persuasion, Malcolm Turnbull, credit the Murdoch media with helping drive the campaign to oust them from power.

Meanwhile, today's front page of Murdoch national daily The Australian - ahead of Queensland state, and perhaps early federal elections - may possibly be a reminder of the kind of supportive headlines governments have seen when they deliver on causes close to the media mogul's heart.

A collation of News Corp front pages from a Rudd Twitter post illustrates his case, reasoning - as Mark Twain is famously claimed to have done - that you should "never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel". Note for what it's worth these days, that with "capacity sharing" and the closure of about half of ACM's print sites in Australia, News Corp has become by far the country's biggest newspaper printer.

• A new campaign fronted by veteran journalist Ray Martin says regional media should be allowed more consolidation, urging further law reform.

The 'Save our voices' campaign via TV, radio and newspapers is supported by Australian Community Media boss Antony Catalano, who says regional media "needs to be able to make commercially sensible decisions that allow us to stay profitable, sustainable and self-sufficient".

Regional TV companies Prime, SCA and WIN have already put forward a plan they say "will enable regional media businesses to more effectively compete against international and metropolitan media companies now operating in regional media markets".

WIN chief executive Andrew Lancaster says media ownership laws - which were reviewed and modified in 2017 - are "outdated and from the pre-internet era".

Peter Coleman

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