There is a decision that can be made which would be of greater significance for the ongoing success of Australia than the outcome of any federal election for years to come. It is a decision for one man — Rupert Murdoch. We need a plan in place that ensures publication of The Australian newspaper for centuries to come.
In this age of tweets and posts we need to retain a quality coast-to-coast newspaper of record, an under-appreciated yet vital piece of national infrastructure. Of course, the most elite thinkers turn to Quadrant for their regular injection of intellectual substance, but the thoughtful among the masses need a daily window into the big issues facing the nation and the world. The Australian has served that purpose well since 1964.
The content of broadsheet newspapers around the world today is probably of a higher standard than ever, but financially they are struggling. Let’s hope it’s temporary but it may be permanent. If The Australian were to ever fold it would not be replaced and the nation most definitely left the poorer. We would have only state-centric newspapers. A national newspaper fosters a national perspective – the most important perspective.
In the 1990s, when Rupert had a minor cancer scare, he was asked at his next press conference if the episode had made him think of retirement and he responded, “No … my recovery has only strengthened my belief in my invincibility.” Let’s hope he’s right, but if he is not and if The Australian were to face an extended period of commercial questionability in a post-Rupert era we cannot risk some accounting boffin to recommend its closure.
The model of eternal life for The Australian is The Guardian, which commenced publication in 1821. From 1872 to 1929 the editor was Charles P. Scott who during his long tenure ended up becoming the proprietor. Scott ensured the ongoing publication of The Guardian by bequeathing ownership to the Scott Trust, which had sufficient funds to keep the presses rolling regardless of the bottom line. If Scott is looking down now from above he would surely be pleased he left a powerful journalistic legacy that continues to this day. I’m hoping Rupert can share Scott’s vision. The trust that owns The Guardian is strictly prohibited from influencing editorial, but if we truly want to preserve Rupert’s spirit then his trustees will need to be empowered to maintain a degree of influence.
Through News Corporation, Rupert has a majority interest in several hundred media outlets. Almost all were acquired through takeovers, but he conceived The Australian , launched it and gave it its character. It has always been Rupert’s little baby. The Australian has been a consistent force for good in Australia. One of many examples is that soon after The Australian was launched, Rupert hired a small plane, a pilot and a photographer and they flew around the Outback to take photos of remote Aboriginal communities. He then launched a campaign through The Australian that awoke middle Australia to the desperate plight of too many indigenous peoples. The Australian’s commitment to Aboriginal disadvantage has been a consistent theme to this day.
The Australian has backed Liberal and Labor over the years and, in retrospect, he has usually made the right call. He backed Whitlam in 1969 and 1972 when the Liberals had run out of puff and it probably was time for a change. He backed Fraser in 1975 when Whitlamism had gone off the rails. He backed Hawke, Keating (except 1996), Howard (most of the time), Rudd (in 2007 but not 2013) Abbott and Turnbull. Rupert is a right-winger … but when a leader of a left-wing party comes along who is fiscally responsible he’s happy to consider backing them. He’s wise enough to recognise that a democracy will elect left-wing governments from time to time so its better to have a good one.
The Australian lead the nation in promoting the economic reforms of the 1980s. It has championed free trade, the American alliance and our engagement with Asia, and and has allocated op-ed space to writers as diverse as Phillip Adams and Janet Albrechtsen. The Oz was wrong on the republic and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but all newspapers get some of the big calls wrong — The Guardian despised Abraham Lincoln and celebrated his death while the New York Times outrageously downplayed the Holocaust during WWII.
Rupert Murdoch loves Australia. Some detractors will trot out the cheap line that he cashed in his passport for American citizenship in the 1980s, but we should all be grateful he did. Rupert is the Alexander the Great of media. He has risen from the proprietor of Adelaide’s then-junior newspaper to the king of American news which wouldn’t have been possible without US citizenship. Along the way he has made his many Australian shareholders richer and thereby poured enormous tax revenues into Canberra.
As a young man Rupert drove across the US and remarked to his travelling companion, “one day when they move the pieces around the chessboard of America I will be a player at the table.” He has been a confidante of US presidents since JFK and has used that power to argue for Australian interests. He has acted effectively as a de facto Australian ambassador in the most powerful nation on earth and earned respect for Australia along the way.
It was recently revealed President Trump has weekly phone calls with Rupert. Ambassador Hockey no doubt played a role in securing an Australian exemption for the recent steel tariff, but I suspect Rupert also nudged the president towards a favourable outcome for Down Under. When Bill Gates was asked what it was like to be the most influential man in the world he replied, “I don’t know. Ask Rupert Murdoch.” But despite his awesome power, despite being in the inner circle of the most powerful of inner circles, Rupert’s Aussie patriotism runs deep.
His father, Keith, was a reporter on the frontlines in Gallipoli and it was his gruesome report (which resulted in his arrest) that gave birth to our most enduring national myth. When Australians are polled on the question of the best Australian movie of all time Gallipoli easily tops the list. That movie was funded not by News Corp — or News Ltd, as it then was — but by private citizen Rupert Murdoch.
Rupert has been more than generous towards his homeland so I’m reluctant to propose he gives even more, but we simply need The Australian for centuries to come. And only Rupert has the power to deliver. For centuries to come thinking Australians will quietly say to themselves while being enlightened by a daily reading of The Australian, ‘Thank you, Rupert Murdoch.’
John Ruddick is a former candidate for the federal presidency of the Liberal Party