Thursday, March 10, 2011

Murdoch's Australian pro-growth propaganda machine

Perhaps the most blatant misuse of media power in Australia today is the Murdoch Press's pro-growth propaganda.

It is an open secret that no one gets a senior  journalistic position in the Murdoch Press (at least in any of the areas related to economic or political news) who is not a proponent of endless growth. Editorials regularly demand "growth" and excoriate doubters. Writers often see themselves not as investigative journalists -- there is less and less of that -- but as Murdoch's cattledogs, whose job is to herd politicians and public figures in the right direction, and to punish with a sharp nip on the rump anyone not actively attending to the boss's agenda. Growth is understood in the simplest and naivest terms, not even as GDP per capita but simply as gross domestic product.

It is not hard to see how this benefits Murdoch's interests. You don't get to own so much of the world's media without aggressively leveraging your initial capital. In plain English, you take risks, and possibly larger risks than your shareholders or bankers would be happy with if they knew what was going on. Many such venturers crash and wind up in jail; and even many who seem to have made it to the top, like the Canadian media tycoon Maxwell, eventually take one chance too many. Any sort of downturn in economic growth threatens such men (they are almost all men to date) because that's when bankers become narky about loan security, and start refusing to renew loans. Hence such fast-mushrooming tycoons  loathe any notion of economic downturn, or even of a level or Steady State economy.

As well, of course, a media tycoon benefits directly from population growth. More people equals more customers, and also more stuff being sold (and hence more advertising revenue). In particular, population growth inflates house prices, and the steeper these become the more lavishly house sales are promoted, and the greater the revenue from real estate advertisements.

It is to the credit of the Fairfax papers that while basically pro-growth they allow alternative opinions. The economics editors of the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald seem to speak from another world.

Senior Murdoch journalists know that they would not have their jobs if they did not follow the Murdoch line, and in some cases might not be able to get jobs as journalists or as senior journalists at all without their willingness to write to order. They cover any sense of inferiority and any pangs of conscience with an aggressive and often hysterical defensiveness. Anyone who questions their peculiar mindset must be scoffed out of existence or represented as an extremist.

Within this narrow church there are individual differences of viewpoint. Even Murdoch cannot get a staff of fellow tycoons to write for him, and so he must often use journalistics whose conservative or rightwing views come from a slightly different source than his own. Conservative Catholics like the Shanahans are prominent on the staff of The Australian. These sometimes have reactionary views on, for instance, global warming that Murdoch himself does not share. Others get away with being less socially conservative, so long as they are firmly with the business Right on issues like the need for endless growth of population and GDP. . .

[I wrote the above originally as a lead-in to the piece on George Megalogenis, but decided it is better as a free-standing comment.]


A day before I published this post (I have since discovered) Bob Ellis published on ABC's The Drum a piece called Murdoch at 80: Lear on the Heath.  It attacks not so much Murdoch's Australian newspapers as Murdoch and his international operations. It's a wild and whirling piece, in typical Bob Ellis style, but worth a look. It certainly makes my criticisms look restrained, even though (as one would expect with Ellis) it is largely uncritical of Murdoch's growth-propaganda.

1 comment: