SYDNEY September 3- Rupert Murdoch’s clout in Britain and the United States might have diminished, but in Australia he dominates the media landscape, playing a prominent role in undermining Kevin Rudd’s dream of retaining power, analysts say.
While the ruling Labor party has long trailed the Tony Abbott led conservative opposition in opinion polls, Rudd’s ousting of Julia Gillard to re-take the prime ministership in June reignited hopes that he could pull off an unlikely upset in the September 7 general election.
But Rudd quickly found that he was battling not only undecided voters but also Murdoch, who controls about two-thirds of the press in the country where he established his powerful global media empire.
Few other countries have media concentrated in such a way and the day after Rudd announced the election date, Murdoch’s Sydney tabloid The Daily Telegraph made clear its stance, running a picture of Rudd on its front page under the headline “Kick This Mob Out”.
Around the country, publications under News Corp which backed Rudd during his successful 2007 election have launched a series of scathing headlines with Murdoch himself taking to Twitter to attack Labor and throw his support behind Abbott.
To ram home the point, The Sunday Telegraph at the weekend splashed a picture of Abbott on its front page under the headline “Australia Needs Tony”, less than a week away from polling day.
“You can see by the reaction of the politicians that the media is obviously influential. It can set the agenda,” said David McKnight, of the University of New South Wales and author of the book “Rupert Murdoch: An Investigation of Political Power”.
“Given that he (Murdoch) controls 70 percent of the capital city newspaper circulation in Australia, his moods and beliefs are a material factor during elections in Australia,” McKnight told AFP.
“Prime ministers and opposition leaders seek his favours but are grateful if they can just have his neutrality.”
Debate has raged over why Australian born Murdoch would want to influence the outcome, with Rudd pointing to the tycoon opposing Labor’s national broadband (NBN) network.
He suggested this threatened the business model of News Corp’s pay TV arm Foxtel, which is one of the company’s key assets, generating decent profits in a difficult media age where traditional newspapers are losing money.
The argument is that consumers could opt to use fast NBN speeds to download their own visual entertainment rather than pay for a Foxtel subscription.
But McKnight said Murdoch was a political animal and his backing of Abbott could not be explained simply through commercial interests.
“Newspaper ownership in Australia is among the most concentrated in the world and it is very significant that it is controlled by a highly political proprietor,” he said.
“Murdoch has a history of influencing governments. It’s something he can and does do. People look for commercial reasons but he has a profound belief in certain political philosophies.”
How successful his campaign will be remains to be seen.