“Once, back in the day, I got asked to work for Murdoch,” the guy on the pushbike said to me, while wearing a leather jacket with flowing long hair, looking nothing at all like what you may suppose a journo would look like.
“Murdoch has a lot of power, but bugger the money – you gotta keep your freedom, be a free spirit,” he added, apparently not impressed by News Corp patriarch Rupert’s large reserves of funds.
Regardless of the veracity of that guy’s story, his criticism of Rupert Murdoch and his assessment of working for the media mogul being akin to selling one’s soul is not uncommon.
We Australians have just endured an election campaign that officially lasted for a month and unofficially lasted for three years.
Between the catchcries of “stop the boats” and “save the NBN”, six-point plans and leadership spills was the Murdoch press and waves of rampant criticism aimed towards it.
A Queensland café posted up a notice during the campaign to let its customers know it would no longer be offering copies of The Courier Mail or The Australian with their morning cups of coffee.
Instead, they would offer the Fairfax stable’s crown jewels, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Yet interestingly, Fairfax did not shy away from making bold political statements of its own during the campaign.
The first big move came when The Age ran a front page editorial calling for then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard to step aside to allow Kevin Rudd a crack at Tony Abbott.
On both The Age’s social media accounts and the comments section, readers supportive of Gillard reacted with fury. Yet despite the backlash, come polling week The Age was the only newspaper in the country to endorse the ALP.
The campaign rolled on and more editorials took centre stage. Many cans of XXXX Gold were sunk in Brisbane the night the Maroons won the State of Origin series and the journos at The Courier Mail office were apparently in a rather jubilant mood too.
“We rule,” read the headline in a splash of maroon as Queensland downed New South Wales 26 to 6 and Banana Bender Rudd saw off Prime Minister Gillard by 12 votes in a leadership ballot.
Perhaps the editors at the Daily Telegraph still had football on their mind when the election was finally called for September 7th and their front page photo of Rudd was boldly paired with a promise to its readers that they finally had the chance to “kick this mob out”.
Many an Aussie voter took to social media to express their outrage at the Murdoch press’ pressure on the democratic process while Labor pollies’ ire was raised by the man who gave up his right to vote on our shores so he could own a greater slice of the media pie in the United States.
However, despite the criticism, electoral endorsement of a particular party by Australian newspapers is nothing new, nor is it confined to the Murdoch press.
The 2010 federal election, contested on similar issues to this year’s campaign, saw three daily Murdoch papers, The Advertiser in Adelaide, Darwin’s NT News and The Mercury in Hobart all endorse Labor.
The Sunday Herald Sun and even, remarkably, the Sunday Telegraph, joined them in endorsing the ALP over the Coalition.
The Sunday Tele’s then-editor Neil Breen wrote, “The Sunday Telegraph believes Ms Gillard and the Labor government deserve a second term, like every government since 1931, and a chance to prove they can move beyond the polls and toward a real change for Australia’s future.”
This raises the question of whether readers simply choose to pick up the paper that endorses their party of choice to reaffirm their own views.
The Coalition won the election comfortably but whether it did so thanks to the Murdoch press is not necessarily clear.
It’s equally possible the papers and their keen eye on desperately driving sales correctly gauged public opinion and rode on the coattails of Tony Abbott’s popularity to sell copies.
The media shouldn’t be immune from criticism because they have a job to do like everything else, but the audience deserves its due respect too.
Newspaper readers are well aware that editorial content is opinion and regardless of whether it’s found on the front page or on page 17, it is labelled as such.
I doubt that free spirit on his pushbike simply picked up a newspaper and voted for who it recommended but he may have given it some thought.