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Report backs call by Kevin Rudd for inquiry into Murdoch media empire and recommends probe with powers of a royal commission be established
Labor and the Greens have recommended a judicial inquiry with the powers of a royal commission into media diversity, ownership and regulation.
The majority report from the long-running Senate inquiry into media diversity found it was “clear that the current regulatory framework is not fit for purpose and significant changes are required”.
“A judicial inquiry would have the capacity for a more comprehensive investigation, including compelling witnesses to give evidence, than can be undertaken by a parliamentary committee,” the report, which was tabled on Thursday, stated.
“Such an inquiry would also be conducted at arm’s length of all politicians to allow an independent investigation into media regulation and ownership.”
The former Labor prime minister’s petition for a royal commission into the need for a strong and diverse media was supported by more than 500,000 people.
The federal opposition’s media spokesperson, Michelle Rowland, told Sky News Australia on Thursday that Labor would not seek a judicial inquiry because it was not ALP policy.
“With all due respect to the Senate, it performs its functions and undertakes its inquiries and makes its recommendations as it sees fit,” she said. “But I can tell you clearly that this is not Labor party policy.”
Rudd subsequently criticised Rowland on ABC TV by suggesting she was too “close” to Murdoch.
The upper house committee was told media regulation was not effective and inconsistent governance arrangements and standards across platforms made it unworkable. TV is governed by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, a government agency, while print and digital news are overseen by the Australian Press Council, a self-regulated industry body.
“Evidence to the committee testified to the inability of existing regulators to ensure that standards of fairness and accuracy are maintained, and to prevent the spread of misinformation,” the majority report from Labor and the Greens said.
Hanson-Young said the report found the call for a judicial inquiry from the more than half a million Australians who signed the petition was warranted.
“The majority of the committee which undertook this 13-month-long inquiry has recommended the establishment of a judicial inquiry with the powers and weight of a royal commission into the state of media diversity and dominance in Australia,” Hanson-Young said. “This is a move the parliament itself can make.”
A judicial inquiry could be set up without the support of the government but for a bill to pass the House of Representatives, a member of the government would need to cross the floor.
Hanson-Young said: “The evidence that the Murdoch media empire is indeed a dangerous monopoly was heard loud and clear. From climate-denialism to gendered, partisan attacks, and providing a platform for racism and for Covid disinformation, the impact of both concentration of media ownership and a failing regulatory system was obvious.”
“Throughout the inquiry, we heard about the many Australian journalists that produce high-quality, in-depth reporting with integrity and professionalism. It is those hard-working journalists that are being let down by a broken regulatory system and corporate culture inside news organisations that allows poor behaviour to flourish,” the Greens senator said.
Murdoch’s global chief executive, Robert Thomson, told the Senate inquiry the idea that Rupert Murdoch influenced Australian elections was a “myth” and far removed from the behaviour of “the real Rupert”.
Thomson rejected a suggestion by Hanson-Young that the chairman and chief executive of News Corp had a hand in directing his newspaper editors on which party should win.
“Senator, the philosophy is around ideas,” Thomson told the media diversity inquiry via video conference from New York. “I have to say there is Murdoch the myth ... and the real Rupert.”
In earlier evidence, Sky News Australia denied broadcasting Covid misinformation, telling the hearing that YouTube’s removal of 23 of the broadcaster’s videos was “totalitarian” and lacking in transparency.
The Sky News chief executive officer, Paul Whittaker, said it “now appears commonplace to discredit any debate on contentious issues as ‘misinformation’” and vigorously defended Sky’s right to present a range of views on treatments such as ivermectin.
In a dissenting report, Liberal senator Andrew Bragg called the report a “shameless political stunt which should not be taken seriously”.
“The committee has called for this inquiry two weeks after the Senate collapsed an inquiry into the ABC complaints process,” Bragg said. “The report recommends private media organisations should be subjected to the intrusions of a judicial inquiry. At the same time, the ABC should not be subjected to Senate scrutiny. That is absurd.”
Bragg was behind the push for a complaints inquiry which was branded “political interference” by the ABC chair, Ita Buttrose, and voted down by Labor and the Greens in the Senate.
Rudd, who is chair of the recently launched lobby group Australians for a Murdoch Royal Commission, said Thursday’s report vindicated the concerns of the people who signed the petition.
“This wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the ordinary Australians doing what politicians haven’t had the courage for until now: organising together to stand up to Murdoch’s media empire,” Rudd said.
“Australians know in their guts that it’s wrong for one man to wield so much political power, whether it’s a far-right American billionaire or anyone else.
“These senators have spent more than a year sifting through the evidence for and against a royal commission. Their recommendations should be heeded. The political parties should be given time and space to digest and consider this report, free from interference by Murdoch’s aggressive lobbying campaigns.”