Dark days for Australian journalism as Murdoch’s global empire sells democracy down the river

News Corp’s decision to take the axe to regional and community newspapers shows just how vulnerable Australian journalism has become to Rupert Murdoch’s New York-based empire, argue Peter Fray and Eric Beecher.

May 29, 2020, updated May 29, 2020
News Corp's cuts will affect print editions of Messenger in Adelaide and a yet to be revealed number of staff. Photo: AAP/David Mariuz

News Corp's cuts will affect print editions of Messenger in Adelaide and a yet to be revealed number of staff. Photo: AAP/David Mariuz

Australian news journalism has never seen a day as black as yesterday — and not just because News Corp has closed 12 of its 17 regional daily newspapers, leaving Australia with just 20 remaining.

This week also demonstrates the grotesque power of one company — and one family — to decimate a large slice of a country’s news in a single media release.

A company worth $16.3 billion, run from New York, has wielded a knife through large swathes of Australian democracy.

And the same company has another knife hovering over Australian public interest journalism, as it decides whether or not AAP, the country’s only wire service, employing around 200 journalists, will be sold or left to die.

Of course, this situation has been possible for years. But many policymakers have preferred to either ignore it or take it as an abstract thought. Now it’s a reality, and communities — and democracy — will suffer.

The spin has been extraordinary.

Although hundreds of journalists and other employees will lose their jobs, the company didn’t have the decency to quantify that number — instead turning the appalling news into propaganda, claiming it is “reshaping News Corp Australia to focus on where consumers and businesses are moving and to strengthen our position as Australia’s leading digital news media company”.

It also noted that “more than 375 journalists will be specifically covering regional and community news and information. They will continue to serve, and live in, their local communities with the majority in regional Queensland where we have most of our titles”.

It is currently unclear how many reporting jobs will go in regional news media. At time of publication, 175 was the most cited industry figure.

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There is no argument that the news business is tough and that News Corp is a business. It is not the ABC. But these closures reveal just how fragile the new media is — and how vulnerable the fourth estate and all its public interest functions are to Rupert Murdoch, his family and their lieutenants.

Eric Beecher is the chairman of Private Media and the publisher of Crikey. He is also chair of Solstice Media – publisher of InDaily.

Peter Fray is Crikey‘s editor-in-chief.

This article was first published in Crikey.

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