on media

The terrible dilemma of Murdoch’s about turn

Shifting further right carries its own risks, says Raymond Snoddy As Murdoch prepares to launch his


or some, Rupert Murdoch’s reputation hadn’t much further to fall after the phone hacking scandal and

the ‘humblest day’ of his life. Now there still seems some way

down to go as Murdoch comes under attack in both the US and Australia. Although the other American

networks helped, at least at the outset, Rupert Murdoch and his Fox News did more than anyone else to create the phenomenon that was Donald J Trump. In what was probably pure opportunism, Murdoch backed the twice-impeached, worst president the US has ever had. Fox News supported Trump almost to the end, even getting rid of those responsible for the network calling Arizona for Biden – correctly but too soon for Fox viewers. Murdoch made the cardinal error of

ultimately backing a loser when his modus operandi has always been based on picking political winners in the hope of gaining favours in return. So it was that when it has become

clear to all but the conspiracy theorists that Trump had lost the election, the Murdoch empire did a rapid, if ragged, about turn. This has now created a terrible if

amusing dilemma. Suddenly Fox News isn’t right wing enough for its loyal viewers, who have been deserting the channel in droves. The millions who still think, without

any evidence, that Joe Biden ‘stole’ the election have now pushed off to more extreme ‘news’ outlets such as Newsmax TV and OAN.

After decades of being the most popular American news channel, Fox has now slumped into third place

behind both CNN and MSNBC. The new ratings hierarchy is unlikely to change any time soon. In a sign of growing desperation in

January, it pushed aside one of its more serious news programmes at 7pm and replaced it with Primetime, a show devoted to right-wing opinion or, as one commentator put it, “pumping out a treadmill of lies and misinformation”. Primetime has been thrashed in the

ratings night after night. Turmoil at Fox has continued with the axeing of the Lou Dobbs Tonight show, Fox Business Network’s highest- rated programme. Throughout January, Dobbs was

supporting baseless conspiracy theories about voting fraud while still admitting that no tangible evidence had been found. In Australia, Murdoch’s Sky News

Australia has broadcast increasingly right-wing conspiracy theories on everything from Trump and the pandemic to the cause of Australia’s devastating forest fires. When James Murdoch left

News Corporation last year, citing “disagreements over certain editorial content”, it is believed the main issue was the ‘climate change denial’ informing Sky News Australia’s coverage. More than 500,000 Australians have signed a petition calling for a royal commission into the Murdoch media monopoly – a record. Its organiser, former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, described the monopoly as “a cancer on democracy”. There seems to be no political appetite for such a commission, which is unlikely to happen despite the huge public support.

News UK TV this spring, could anything like Fox News or Sky News Australia happen here? Probably not. We still have, at least for now, a regulated system with requirements for impartiality. Sky News obeyed such rules during

the years of Murdoch control and Fox News, when it was broadcast in the UK, had little impact. News UK TV does, however, promise

that it will opinionated and to the right of centre in the hope of attracting viewers put off by the BBC. It is in a race to get to air before another right-of-centre TV channel – GB News, chaired by Andrew Neil. There is a danger they will try to out-Fox each other in a battle to attract conservative viewers. Meanwhile, Murdoch may have become an increasingly controversial figure but, so far at least, it is not proving bad for business.

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Despite the pandemic, in the quarter to the end of December, net income at Murdoch’s News Corporation rose to $261 million from $103 million. In newspaper terms, in pushing

Murdoch backed a loser when his modus operandi has always been based on picking political winners in the hope of gaining favours

towards digital subscriptions, Murdoch has backed the right horse and, at papers such as The Wall Street Journal and The Times, the growth in digital subscriptions has outpaced declines in advertising revenue. In terms of reputation, however,

Murdoch has taken a nosedive. From backing Trump to at least acquiescing in the views of those who would deny the impact of climate change in Australia and elsewhere, Rupert Murdoch has placed himself on the wrong side of history. Increasingly, that could turn toxic in personal and, ultimately, business terms.

theJournalist | 19

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