Record-breaking Australian petition calls for inquiry into Rupert Murdoch’s media monopolies

More than half a million Australians have signed a parliamentary petition demanding a public inquiry into Rupert Murdoch’s control of the country’s media landscape.  

The petition, which was launched by former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd last month, has drawn more signatures than any other and at times was so popular it caused the parliamentary petition website to crash.  

“We are especially concerned that Australia’s print media is overwhelmingly controlled by News Corporation, founded by Fox News billionaire Rupert Murdoch, with around two-thirds of daily newspaper readership,” the petition states.  

“This power is routinely used to attack opponents in business and politics by blending editorial opinion with news reporting. Australians who hold contrary views have felt intimidated into silence. These facts chill free speech and undermine public debate.”

The petition calls for a Royal Commission, a judge-led public inquiry, into the diversity and strength of the Australian news media.  

In a video announcing the launch of his petition, Mr Rudd described Mr Murdoch as an “arrogant cancer on our democracy” who had destroyed Australian politics’ “level playing field” by using his media properties to vigorously campaign for the Liberal-National coalition.   

Among the more than 140 newspapers owned by News Corporation are the nationally-distributed Australian newspaper, as well as a major local outlet in cities including Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide.

As well as a slate of magazines and radio stations, the company also runs the widely-read news website news.com.au, and owns both the Australian Sky News TV channel and the pay-TV company Foxtel.  

The petition has now closed and will be presented to parliament, but observers say it is unlikely to actually lead to any action by the Liberal-National government of prime minister Scott Morrison.  

The current Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, has also distanced himself from his predecessor’s campaign.  

Mr Rudd, quit Australian politics after losing the 2013 election and now works with a number of international think tanks and educational bodies, praised the 501,876 people who had added their names to his petition in a tweet on Wednesday.  

“Half a million Australians have spoken. They’ve smashed the records to make their voice heard: Australia needs a #MurdochRoyalCommission to protect the lifeblood of our democracy.”

Another former prime minister, the Liberal predecessor of Mr Morrison Malcolm Turnbull, has also added his name to the petition while admitting doubt it would actually end up changing anything about Mr Murdoch’s monopolisation of the media.  

News Corporation newspapers are among Australia’s best-sellers, with some estimating they attract much as 70% of Australian newspaper readers, but have been regularly criticised for downplaying the impact of climate change and a string of scandals, including a cartoon of Serena Williams seen by many to be racist.   

In January a News Corporation employee sent an all-staff email castigating the firm’s “misinformation campaign” over the impact climate change had in the country’s devastating wildfires.  

The media giant has also regularly aimed its fire at Mr Rudd, most famously depicting him on a frontpage ahead of the 2013 election as a Nazi officer.  

However, the conglomerate came under fresh scrutiny last month when Mr Murdoch’s son James, a long-standing senior figure in a number of News Corporation businesses, revealed to the New York Times he had quit his position on the board of the firm due to his discomfort over “disagreements over certain editorial content … and certain other strategic decisions”, in particular those relating to the company’s coverage of Donald Trump’s presidency.

News Corporation has declined to comment on the call for a Royal Commission and its newspapers have tended to avoid covering Mr Rudd’s petition.  

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