Rupert Murdoch's overweening power goes unchallenged in Australia, where all the main parties pay fealty to the media baron.
Adelaide is Australia's festival city. Its arts festival is currently in swing. Polite debate, aesthetics and high-octane wine are putting the world to rights. With one exception. Adelaide is where Rupert Murdoch began his empire. The voracious trail starts here. No statue stands; his is a spectral presence, controlling the only daily newspaper, even the printing presses. Across Australia, he owns almost 70 per cent of the capital city press, the only national newspaper, Sky Television, and much else. Welcome to the world's first murdochracy.
What is a murdochracy? It is where the fealty and augmentation of Murdoch's editors and managers are undisguised, an inspiration to his choir on seven continents, where even his competitors sing along and wise politicians heed the Murdochism: "What'll it be? A headline a day or a bucket of shit a day?"
While the veracity of this celebrated remark is sometimes disputed, its spirit is not. Stricken with pneumonia, the former prime minister John Howard dragged himself out of bed to pay obeisance to the man to whom he owed many empty buckets. His successor, Kevin Rudd, scurried to an obligatory audience with Murdoch in New York mere months to his election. This is standard across the planet. Before he took power, Tony Blair was flown to an island off Queensland to stand at the blue News Corp lectern and pledge Thatcherism and media de-regulation to the jowled figure nodding in the front row. The next day, the Sun lauded Blair as one who "has vision [and] speaks our language on morality and family life".
Murdoch knows that little separates the main political parties in Australia, Britain and America. He plays the man. In 1972, he backed Australia's Gough Whitlam, who revealed himself to be a radical reformer. A furious Murdoch swung his newspapers against Whitlam with stories so outrageously skewed that rebellious journalists on the Australian burned their paper in the street. That has never been repeated.
Dominant themes in the Australian murdochracy, sport and celebrity gossip aside, are the promotion of war and jingoism, US foreign policy, Israel and a paternalism towards Aborigines, the world's most impoverished indigenous group, according to the UN. This antiquated cold warring is not entirely due to the Murdoch press, but the agenda is. When the Indonesian tyrant General Suharto was about to be overthrown by his own people, the then editor-in-chief of the Australian, Paul Kelly, led a delegation of editors of most of Australia's principal newspapers to Jakarta. With Kelly at his side, this mass murderer, whom the Australian promoted as a "moderate", accepted the tribute of each.
Murdoch's most unabashed, if entertaining, retainer is Greg Sheridan, foreign editor of the Australian. On one his adoring trips to the US, Sheridan wrote: "The US is the greatest possible argument for media deregulation. Every morning, I flick between Fox, CNN and MSNBC as I eat my cereal . . . why did it take so long for pay TV to get to Australia?"
He was referring, as if instinctively, to his master's company Foxtel. As for terrorism, Sheridan blames "Pilgerist Chomskyism" for "ideologically fuelling the followers of Osama Bin Lenin, sorry Laden".
One of the most effective campaigns in the Australian murdochracy has been the whitewashing of a bloody colonial past, including attacks on the distinguished chronicler of the Aboriginal genocide Henry Reynolds and the former director of the National Museum of Australia Dawn Casey, for having dared to present the truth about indigenous suffering. The late Manning Clark, Australia's great maverick historian, was smeared by Murdoch's Courier-Mail as a red agent, then as a fraud, in much the style that Murdoch's Sunday Times smeared Michael Foot as a Soviet agent.
Something similar awaits those who question the manipulation of the remembrance of Australia's blood sacrifice for imperialism, old and new. Aimed at the young, a maudlin "new patriotism" reaches an annual climax on 25 April, the anniversary of the disaster at Gallipoli known as Anzac Day. The message is undisguised militarism promoting the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Thus, Prime Minister Rudd says, absurdly, that the military is Australia's highest calling.
Such false flags are flown for Israel, which sees a stream of Australian journalists sponsored and paid for by Zionist groups. The result is apologetic reporting of murderous actions that evokes the great appeasers such as Geoffrey Dawson, editor of the Times, in the 1930s. The debate about state war crimes has all but bypassed Australia. That a former and current British prime minister have been summoned before the Chilcot inquiry is viewed with bemusement, as nothing like it would happen here. Yet Howard, who also invaded Iraq, claimed 30 times in one speech that he knew Saddam Hussein had a "massive programme" of weapons of mass destruction.
The national broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, has long been intimidated by the Murdoch press in the obsessive manner of the campaign waged against the BBC. Funded directly by governments, the ABC has none of the nominal independence afforded by a licence fee. Last year, HarperCollins, owned by Murdoch, was awarded a lucrative "partnership" with ABC Books.
In 1983, there were 50 major corporations dominating the world's media. By 2002, this had been reduced to nine. Rupert Murdoch says that eventually there will be three, including his own. If we accept this, media and information control will be the same, and we all shall be citizens of a murdochracy.