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The Origins of Murdochracy


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Perhaps one of the first times Murdochracy appeared was in a 2012 article by one of the world’s most eminent journalist – John Pilger. Pilger wrote about the $22.5bn-man and media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Rupert Murdoch controls most of Australia’s media, Pilger wrote. Just running behind North Korea, Australia was one of the highest concentration of the so-called free press.

Most of it is controlled by one man: Rupert Murdoch. By comparison, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un controls 100% of the metropolitan press. The former Australian and now US citizen Rupert Murdoch controls 70% of the metropolitan press, says Pilger. One is called an evil dictator with bad hair. The other one is called a CEO, a businessman garlanded with the Order of Australia medal.

Shortly before that, the New Statesman had already asked, what is a Murdochracy? The New Statesman said, Murdochracy is where Murdoch’s editors and managers are undisguised and where even Murdoch’s competitors sing along and politicians heed to the wishes of Rupert Murdoch.

In short, Murdochcracy merges Murdoch with democracy. It occurs when Rupert Murdoch’s media empire (US: Fox News; UK: The Sun; AUS: Daily Telegraph, etc.) shapes democracy by massively influencing voters through his media apparatus. The Urban Dictionary described Murdochcracy as:

The murder of democracy through misinformation – via Rupert Murdoch’s “news” outlets. By framing the narrative through his tabloid and TV outlets in Australia, the US and UK, Rupert Murdoch manipulates the collective consensus, changing ostensibly democratically elected governments at will, to meet his commercial and political needs. Murdochracy is a hijacking of democracy by controlling, restricting and distorting the information on which people make decisions to vote.

By 2020, Aljazeera had started using the term Murdochcracy. Today, it is even possible to purchase a Murdochcracy t-shirt, while Apple Music and Amazon are selling a Punk song called Murdochcracy. Meanwhile, Earth.Org argues that Murdochracy controls the Climate Debate in Australia. Rupert Murdoch is widely seen as a climate change denier.

Through his media empire of the tabloid Sun (UK), the crypto-reputable Times (UK), the Australian tabloids Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun; the Wall Street Journal and the tabloid New York Post (USA); the book publisher HarperCollins; TV-stations like Sky News Australia, Fox News, etc., Rupert Murdoch has plenty of fire power to influence democracy.

Young Rupert (born: 1931) started off creating his very own media empire by inheriting a handful of local newspaper from his father Keith Murdoch (1885-1952). Perhaps even more important for young Rupert was what he had learnt from his father. This made little Rupert understood how to take over other newspapers and how to turn them into financial successes. Once Rupert had succeeded Keith, Rupert realised that this could be transferred to the UK first and to the USA later.

Rupert Murdoch might have also learned from his father that he can influence, if not shape, politics to mirror his ultra-conservative ideology. Keith Murdoch in the 20th century and son Rupert in the 21st century, also understood what long before but none other than Napoleon had realised about the power of the press, namely that four hostile newspaper are more dangerous than a thousand bayonets.

Newspaper owners like Keith and Rupert Murdoch are also acutely aware that they can exercise rigid censorship over everything that affects their own interest, especially when this interest concerns politics. 

As owners, they can give direct editorial instructions to their papers. In most cases, direct editorial instructions are no longer needed. Only a few years ago, 175 editors of Murdoch papers around the world were happily sharing Murdoch’s enthusiasm for the 2003 Iraq war. It was a war for no weapons of mass destruction. And, of course, it wasn’t called Operation Iraq Liberation” (OIL) – an all too obvious give-away.

About one hundred years before Murdochcracy engineered support for the Iraq war, daddy Keith started to realise that virtually all newspapers depended upon advertisements which created a problem for progressive publishers and the critical press, especially those newspapers critical of mass consumerism.

In the Australian context, Keith Murdoch also realised that his papers are a handy weapon in the fight against trade unions. Rupert Murdoch carried his father’s anti-union ideology forward with relentless efficiency, as the 1986 Wapping Fight in the UK shows.

A century earlier and back in Australia, newspaper proprietors like Keith Murdoch realised that newspapers aren’t about news at all. In fact, they are purely an opportunity for financial and political gains. 

Even though Keith Murdoch’s ideology was strictly anti-state, he had no problems in receiving free or reduced postage from Australia’s Postmaster General for sending out his newspapers. In her book Paper Emperors, Sally Young says, a conservative estimate suggests that hundreds of million of dollars was provided by Australian taxpayers to subsidise newspapers between 1890 and 1970 – the time when Keith and Rupert Murdoch grew their local empire on the backs of taxpayers.

In 1915, Keith Murdoch went to London returning in 1921 to become the editor of the Herald newspaper. Roughly 70 years later, Rupert Murdoch followed in his father’s footsteps by conquering British media. From early on, like father like son showed contempt for the audience while focusing on “crime and underwear”. Brutally, they converted quality newspapers into tabloids – the infamous Penny Press – under their 3C strategy: crime, cunt and comics.

Essentially, the Murdochs designed a typical tabloid for readers of the mental age of about fourteen. These, so the Murdochs think, are mostly married men with two kids. They are perceived to be conservative, easily shocked and struggle to pay off a mortgage. Any sentence longer than twelve words is to be avoided. The golden rule (read: those with the gold rule) of Murdochcracy is, to never use a word that a child could not understand.

Armed with that, Keith Murdoch was ready to start News Limited in a dusty outback town called Broken Hill. Under Keith Murdoch’s leadership, the anti-union paper avoided pay rises for its workers and even thwarted the move from a 48-hour to a 44-hour week – never mind a 40 or 35 hours working week. 

By the 1930s, he acquired a reputation of being an unscrupulous propagandist and a ruthless power player. At that time, the term “Murdoch Press” (Keith Murdoch) emerged. Later Rupert Murdoch was to morph this into Murdochcracy.

At the same time, Keith Murdoch’s main goal in developing his crypto-journalistic career was to achieve corporate and above all political power. While others said, his power-lust was insatiable. Yet key to Rupert Murdoch’s father was his skilful exploitation of powerful men who, like Keith Murdoch, also believed in his zealously anti-labour ideology spiced up with the skill manufacturing of sensational and salacious news. Keith Murdoch never shied away from using his pen as a propaganda instrument while publishing false claims, suppressing stories and pitilessly going after opponents. 

Both Murdochs fancy nationalism, patriotism and the support of Australia’s deeply racist’s White Australia ideology. Inside the newspaper office, Keith Murdoch was known as a despot with kid gloves. A typical tabloid story hyped up by Keith Murdoch concerned the murder of a 12-year-old girl in 1921. If one understands who Keith Murdoch used and twisted, this one also understands how son Rupert Murdoch came to the phone hacking scandal, uncovered in 2005. Rupert Murdoch precursor was this:

A girl had been brutally murdered. Murdoch could not believe his good fortune. Keith Murdoch believed to have great luck getting the murder story. He set upon playing into racist prejudices suggesting the murderer might be an “oriental”. Murdoch’s papers pushed police to get a quick arrest. Promptly, a “non-oriental” local was arrested. During the trial, the circulation of Murdoch’s paper almost doubled (120 000 to 230 000). Despite a solid alibi and pleas of innocence, the man was executed. Eighty-six years later, a forensic examination found that he was innocent. The man had died a painful death through strangulation in a botched execution. He was officially pardoned in 2008.

An innocent man was killed while Keith Murdoch made his money. Eighty years later, the basics of this case were repeated in the Phone Hacking Scandal – this time in the UK. In both cases, Murdoch’s 3C strategy paid off handsomely. The father like son sensationalised crime and underwear but also feasted on gossip, romance, sex, scandals, mystery, excitement and sensation fostering a rather questionable popular “taste”(!) in order to build circulation, wealth and power.

Pioneered by Keith Murdoch, all Rupert Murdoch had to do was to apply daddy’s strategy to the UK and the USA. Keith Murdoch’s business strategy was rather simple but, also highly effective. It consisted of four basics: 

  • Firstly, buy or take over an existing newspaper – this is Murdoch’s cuckoo strategy;
  • secondly, reduce staff number by firing journalist – tabloids hardly need investigative journalist;
  • thirdly, cut overhead cost; and,
  • finally, carry the newspaper on as tabloids or close it down to enhance your monopoly.

Applying this business strategy cold-bloodedly allowed Keith Murdoch to become the most powerful newspaper executive in Australia by the end of 1931. Beyond that, Murdoch also used his power ruthlessly to install his sort of ultra-conservative politicians. 

All Rupert Murdoch did was carry his father’s approach to business and politics forward. Tony Blair and David Cameron were Rupert Murdoch’s priced achievements. Yet, Rupert Murdoch’s crowning achievements remain to be Boris Johnson and Brexit. In the USA, it was Donald Trump. When Keith Murdoch said that he was building up a legacy for his son Rupert, the Machiavellian-like cunningness of Rupert Murdoch has more than honoured his father.

The father like son team stuck diligently to their ideology of strongly supporting ultra-conservatives. They also assisted them as much as they could and helped in getting the desired election outcomes. 

Like Keith Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch is keenly aware of his power and plays it out uncompromisingly. A final statement by Keith Murdoch illustrates the worldview of a father whose son was eager to copy. At a dinner party in 1938 with the attending Prime Minister, Murdoch maliciously said in front of the PM, 

I put him there, and I’ll put him out.

Roughly sixty years later, the then UK prime minster got the message. David Cameron had to crawl up and fell on his knees in front of Rupert Murdoch a whopping 26 times. This alone shows who has the power and who is the puppet dancing to the master’s tune. 

It also shows how Murdochcracy works in Australia, the UK and in the USA. Yet Joe Biden’s win demonstrates that, even someone as powerful as Rupert Murdoch does not always. More often than not however, Rupert Murdoch tends to win. In any case, the Keith Murdoch  Rupert Murdoch  Lachlan Murdoch dynasty of propaganda and mass deception is likely to be with us for the foreseeable future. Like Keith and Rupert, Rupert’s son Lachlan will assure that Murdochcracy continues to rule.

 

Thomas Klikauer’s forthcoming book is called “Media Capitalism”.

Meg Young is an Accountant in Sydney who loves her dog and enjoys proof reading.

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