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Federal MPs 'frightened of Murdoch' media empire

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News Corp Australia has accused former prime minister Kevin Rudd of misleading a Canberra parliamentary inquiry into media diversity, after he said “the truth in this building is everyone’s frightened of Murdoch”.

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Speaking as a witness, Rudd told the inquiry that proposed media bargaining laws simply entrench the power and reach of the Murdoch media empire, headed by Rupert and his son Lachlan.

Rudd called for parliament to listen to the more than half a million people who had signed a petition calling for action.

“It’s not simply a random call for a royal commission. They know something is crook,” he said.

Rudd admitted that he himself was “fearful” of News Corp while prime minister.

“When did I stop being fearful? Probably when I walked out of the building in 2013,” he said.

“The truth in this building is that everyone’s frightened of Murdoch.

“What the Murdoch mob is after is compliant politicians who won’t rock the boat.”

Rudd said monopolies were wrong and lead to corruption that is buried, denied and not investigated, and also change behaviour over time that skew the national debate.

The “Fox News-isation” of the Australian media was well under way, breeding climate change denialism and encouraging far-right political extremism, Rudd said.

He called out the “misogyny” and “ditch the witch” imagery used during Julia Gillard’s prime ministership, and said the “Murdoch media empire has campaigned viciously against one side of politics”.

But News Corp Australia accused Rudd of misleading the inquiry.

News Corp Australia executive chair Michael Miller says the former prime minister has made false claims about News Corp exercising a monopoly and undue influence in Australia.

“He has misled you,” Miller told Friday’s committee hearing, rejecting Rudd’s “56 assertions”.

“I don’t give directions to editors what to publish politically.

“Democracy is messy, it is a work in progress and relies on the robust exchange of news, views and opinions.

“This is not democracy failing, this is democracy working.”

He also rejected data on market concentration cited by critics of the current media landscape, taking on notice a question from Labor senator Kim Carr to provide alternative figures, particularly on newspapers.

Miller said the Australian media companies’ agreements with Google announced this week will support news producers and diverse audiences amid the “digital revolution”.

He urged the committee to “push back at those who want to see it through the prism of days gone by”.

“It has never been more diverse, it has never been more challenged.”

Miller said the full impact of Facebook’s move on Thursday to block news access and sharing in Australia was yet to be understood.

“The door is still open for Facebook,” he said, as Treasurer Josh Frydenberg tries for a workable code that includes Facebook.

“To proceed with the code is important,” Miller said.

Senior executives from Nine Entertainment will also attend the hearing, arguing Australian consumers have access to diverse news and information, with very few readers accessing only one news brand.

Australian Associated Press will be represented by chief executive Emma Cowdroy, chairwoman Jonty Low and editor Andrew Drummond.

They will argue one of the most efficient ways of supporting media diversity is to ensure the national newswire is properly resourced.

The competition watchdog has said its two key concerns about diversity are the impact of big platforms such as Google and Facebook and ensuring the viability of an independent national newswire.

-AAP

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