Appearing on the ABC‘s popular TV political chat show Q&A on August 30th 2010, former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser dropped a minor bombshell.
Malcolm Fraser on Q & A
80-year old Fraser was head of the Liberal-National Coalition Government between 1975 and 1983. Deeply unpopular on the Australian left back in the 1970s – especially following the controversial sacking of the Whitlam Labor Government in 1975 by Australia’s Governor General – Fraser has none the less emerged in later life as an elder statesman of quality.
Like Ted Heath in Britain before him, Fraser watched the centre-right party he once led moving much further to the right in the quarter century following his departure. Like Heath, Fraser has been outspoken in his criticism. This independent stance has made the right-wing of Australian politics nervous, but his genuine liberalism strikes a deep popular chord.
Last night, 49 minutes into the show, Fraser was posed a hostile, partisan question by a young Liberal supporter in the audience.
Fraser gave a rather thoughtful response:
“There is certainly a great yearning amongst both parties for a different approach, a broader approach, one which has some vision for the future of Australia and one which really tackles difficult issues and and is prepared to explain those issues, and not respond to focus groups or today’s polls or to pressure from News Corporation.”
The elderly ex-politician paused. There was a momentary and rather embarrassed silence, followed by a few titters.
It was as though, in Imperial Rome, an elderly Senator had made seditious remarks about the Emperor.
Fraser’s follow up was superb. He asked his audience rhetorically:
“You think that’s FUNNY?
Just look at the paper! Read that paper – and read all their papers and see where their pressures come and where their purposes and objectives lie. Not just in Australia but in the United States, the attacks on Obama and in Britain also…”
Excerpt from Australian Greens Media & Communications Policy
Fraser was referring to an entrenched problem in Australian political life. Most informed Australians know about it. Few if any active politicians and journalists dare mention it.
As well as enormous online interests and national satellite/cable TV channels, News Corp dominates national daily newspaper readership.
A recent University of NSW research paper explains:
“In 2005, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation controlled two-thirds of Australia’s newspapers and dominated circulation, accounting for 68 per cent, 61 per cent and 78 per cent of capital city figures on Monday-Friday, Saturday and Sunday respectively.“
The feisty north Queensland Independent MP Bob Katter, whose vote may be crucial in the formation of the next Australian Government, has spoken out against a ‘Woolworths-Coles economy’. Bob is right – the two enormous supermarket chains do dominate the Australian market to an unreasonable extent. It doesn’t benefit rural food producers, who’d be better off with a larger number of competing purchasers.
Bob Katter: Man enough to be Rupert's nemesis?
Yet so far, it seems only former politicians have the guts to mention News Corporation’s far more egregious anti-competitive quasi-monopoly.
News Corp dominance is not so noticeable in the cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, where the main quality daily newspaper is not from the News Corp stable. In relative terms, they are the lucky Australians. For those of us in many parts of the country – such as Far North Queensland – News Corp is almost completely dominant in the newspaper market.
This must change. The cross-benchers are ideally placed to promote legislation for greater diversity in Australian media ownership.
Bring it on!
POSTSCRIPT: Speaking today at the National Press Club, acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard pitched for the Independents’ support:
“I want to renovate that Labor tradition, to deliver lasting and durable improvements to our democracy, improvements not just for this parliamentary term, but measures to permanently uplift our system of government as other reforms have done in generations past,” she said.
Is there a better way of putting substance into those fine sentiments than by legislating to restore genuine media diversity in this country?