Murdoch v Big Tech

Clash of the hypocrites

So what represents the biggest threat to Australian democracy?

Is it Big Tech? Or the Murdoch media group?

The question is relevant today because the Murdoch media’s most senior executive in Australia, Michael Miller, has painted a dire picture of social media companies as out-of-control, bad-faith actors who ignore Australian values in a vile and untrammelled drive for profits without accountability.

In a phrase, the likes of Meta and X are “monetising misery” and are mining your lives to do it.

Mr Miller developed his thesis at a National Press Club address yesterday and while much of it might be true, you don’t need to be a genius to see the obvious problem here: the idea of the Murdoch gang taking the high moral ground on values – or anything, really – is self-evidently absurd. Step forward AAP reporter Kat Wong who yesterday punctured the fantasy world which the News boss had spun. 

Wong asked Miller how he squared his fine words with the reality of the Murdoch group’s treatment of young women such as Sudanese-Australian writer Yassmin Abdel-Magied who departed Australia after being hounded by News Corp. 

Miller explained that the work “wasn’t intended to bully” – rather it had “raised issues.” 

It takes real chutzpah to stand firm as the defender of the public good when your media organisation has the UK phone hacking scandal on its rap sheet, with its trail of victims, broken laws and millions of dollars in compensation. But the folks at Murdoch HQ are in full self-righteous flight at the moment and that’s because the organisation is also this month marking the 60th anniversary of the launch of The Australian newspaper. 

Such occasions invite moments of self-delusion. Perhaps it’s this which explains Michael Miller’s extraordinary decision to attack Big Tech for its role in the Trump mob’s January 6 2021 storming of the US Capitol Hill, the very symbol of US democracy. They had “failed to curb misinformation” before the riots, the News Corp CEO alleged.

Why would a Murdoch executive point the finger at social media companies given the Murdoch group’s central role in promoting Donald Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen? Fox News agreed to pay out over a billion dollars in damages after consistently airing false claims about the performance of US vote counting company, Dominion Voting Systems. And well before Facebook algorithms divided the US, Fox News had spotted anger and division as the foundation of its business model. 

News Corporation is on the shakiest of ground when it picks a fight with Big Tech on the question of democracy. The evidence is that the Murdoch group consistently acts in a way which corrodes the very basis of Australian democracy. Through the pages of The Australian in particular, it relentlessly attacks one side of politics, the Labor party, and fosters an air of crisis around the elected government. While destabilising Labor, it promotes the Coalition come what may, as long as the likes of Peter Dutton back the Murdoch group’s agendas. There is no clearer case of a media group seeking to sabotage an elected government for its own commercial ends. Anthony Albanese is so alarmed at the impact on democracy that he has publicly called out the right wing media for acting as ‘stenographers’.

It’s worth noting that The Australian’s writers have already begun to discredit the UK Labour party as likely to be the most left wing British government in decades. Even before it has been elected, The Australian predicts that a Keir Starmer-led government “quickly lead to crisis”, “renewed stagnation and alienation.” 

And in the US, of course, it’s business as usual for Murdoch’s Fox News, notwithstanding that in its actions amounted to an attack on the very fabric of democracy: the validity of a citizen’s vote.

It’s a dismal day when we have to choose which US-based conglomerate is the greater threat to democracy: News Corporation or Meta/X.

The truth is they both are. But the distinguishing feature is this: no-one quite does hypocrisy like the Murdoch organisation as it celebrates its own mythology. 

David Hardaker is an investigative journalist and author.

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