Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd claims impending media bargaining laws will entrench the power of Rupert Murdoch’s news empire.
Rudd said Australian media was undergoing a “Fox News-isation” and was breeding climate change denialism and encouraging far-right political extremism.
“The Murdoch media empire has campaigned viciously against one side of politics,” he said.
Rudd is fronting a parliamentary inquiry into media diversity after a petition he started garnered over 500,000 signatures from Australians.
Rudd announced the petition in October via Twitter, calling on the federal parliament to investigate the abuse of media monopoly, particularly in relation to Murdoch’s interests.
“The truth is Murdoch has become a cancer, an arrogant cancer, on our democracy,” Rudd said in the video launching the petition.
Rudd told the hearing that “everyone’s frightened of Murdoch.”
Rudd was prime minister of Australia from 2007 to 2010, before his term was cut short by Julia Gillard in a leadership challenge. He regained the prime ministership after re-challenging Gillard in 2013, however lost the subsequent election to Tony Abbott.
Senior executives from News Corp and Nine Entertainment also attended the hearing and argued Australians were able to access a diverse range of news and sources.
The former prime minister has previously claimed that 70 percent of print readership in Australia is owned by News Corp.
However, the claim was disputed at the time.
Ben Goldsmith and Terry Flew of the Queensland University of Technology, wrote in The Conversation that according to the Finkelstein Review of Media and Media Regulation, in 2011, News Corp accounted for just 23 percent of newspaper titles across the country.
In 2019, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission found that the tech giants had userbases that far outweighed most Australian media’s reach, with 19.2 million Australians using Google-owned platforms and 18.6 million on Facebook-owned platforms every month.
According to Roy Morgan, public broadcaster, the ABC had just over 10 million unique visitors over a nine-month period in 2020.
The Australian government is currently rolling out the News Media Bargaining Code, which aims to level the playing field between the tech giants and news publishers in the country by setting up a framework for news companies to negotiate with Google and Facebook to pay for content.
The process has been long and acrimonious. However, Google has since come to the table and signed-off three high-profile deals with Seven West Media, Nine Entertainment, and News Corp.
Facebook has chosen a different path and made a major decision to pull news content from its platform in Australia.
The move affected a large cross-section of government-related and non-profit Facebook pages, including the World Wildlife Fund, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, and 1800 Respect.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg responded to Facebook’s move by pledging to stay the course and legislate the Media Code.
On Tuesday, after negotiations into the eleventh hour, Facebook agreed to reverse the ban.