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Rupert Murdoch’s Political Homecoming

Fox News may have failed to have an impact on the outcome of the 2012 Presidential election in the United States, but media organizations controlled by Rupert Murdoch celebrated a victory this year in Australia.  The Australian federal elections held September 7 resulted in a decisive conservative victory, with the conservative Coalition parties winning 90 out of 150 seats in parliament.

The billionaire-headed fringe Palmer United Party (Australia’s version of the Tea Party) won only 1 seat in parliament, but more than 5% of the total national vote.

If the Coalition victory in September’s federal elections showed one thing, it’s the influence of American political culture on politics around the world.  As the party of business and the prosperous middle class, Australia’s conservative Coalition was founded on values and beliefs that were similar to those of the early US Republican Party.  Both groups have always been anti-labor and anti-immigrant, but they are also both heirs to strong traditions of moral decency and personal liberty.

The Republican Party, after all, was once the party of Abraham Lincoln, civil rights, environmental conservation, and international non-intervention.

All that changed in the years after Rupert Murdoch shifted the center of his media empire from Adelaide to London to New York.  In 1996 Murdoch hired Republican operative Roger Ailes to help him launch the 24-hour cable ‘news’ channel Fox News.  Fox News has dramatically boosted the public profile of the Republican Party, but even more it has changed the character of the party itself.

No longer a party controlled by managers and professionals, the Republican Party is now an evangelical crusading movement, evangelical and crusading in both their secular and their Christian meanings.  If the Republican Party moved decisively to the right with the election of Ronald Reagan, it fell off the political spectrum in the 2000s, goaded above all by relentless messaging from Fox News.

Fox News enabled, endorsed, and then promoted the lunatic Tea Party movement that emerged after the election of Barack Obama in 2008.  Fox News anchors regularly speak at (and even organize) Tea Party events.  As a result of all this free advertising, Tea Party activists have in many states captured the Republican Party apparatus, even challenging and unseating established Republican incumbents.

Fox News is now the most-watched television “news” channel in America, though where Fox is concerned, word “news” must be placed in quotation marks.  The channel is in reality a bizarre new kind of public relations firm that shows program-length infomercials for ultra conservative causes (“news”) punctuated by old-fashioned corporate commercials that pay the bills — and a hefty profit.

Fox News does not report the conservative agenda.  It creates it.  Not since the yellow journalism of the Spanish-American war has a media organization driven the national agenda in the way Fox News does.  And what an agenda: revanchist sexism, immigrant-bashing, race baiting, climate change denial, austerity economics, if it’s wrong, it’s right.

And it’s coming to Australia.  Fox News is not an American aberration; it is the profit-generating heart of the Murdoch empire.  That the 2013 Australian elections should have been fought primarily over the deficit — in the country with the best fiscal position in the developed world — is ridiculous.  That the media should push both political parties to vilify asylum seekers is villainous.  That a major coal exporter should backtrack on climate change is suicidal.

Fox News may not yet dominate the Australian media landscape as it does the American, but the “Fox News Effect” is in Australia to stay.  Rupert Murdoch controls more than two-thirds of all the paid newspaper circulation in Australia.  Much of the remainder is printed by Fairfax Media, whose largest shareholder is the billionaire mining baron Gina Rinehart.

It seems inevitable that Australia will go the way of the United States, much as Canada, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand already have: pro-business regulation, climate change denialism, and anti-poor policies and politics.  The governing Coalition is certainly committed to this agenda.  We can only wish the Australian people good luck in resisting it.

This article is adapted from an essay that originally appeared in Australian Options magazine.

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