Rupert Murdoch Talks Survival of Newspapers, Climate Change on Australia Visit

Lachlan, Sarah and Rupert Murdoch celebrate 50 years of "The Australian."
Lachlan, Sarah and Rupert Murdoch celebrate 50 years of "The Australian."
 News Corp

SYDNEY – Rupert Murdoch’s annual trip home to Australia came slightly earlier this year, as the media mogul traveled down under this week to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his founding of The Australian, the country's only national daily broadsheet.

Murdoch rolled out the first edition of the paper in Canberra on July 15, 1964. It remains one of News Corp’s key products, and one to which he remains fiercely attached.

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“In his last will and testament, my father wrote that he wanted me to have 'the great opportunity of spending a useful altruistic and full life in newspaper and broadcasting activities.' Those are words that have stayed with me throughout my career, and they were there in the background as I started The Australian,” the News Corp chairman said at a gala dinner in Sydney on Tuesday.

And while Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, other government ministers, a raft of former editors of the paper, business chiefs, the immediate Murdoch family, sports stars and local celebrities toasted The Australian at the event, Murdoch used the occasion to look forward to where his newspapers may be in another 50 years.

The Australian sought to offer a new, national perspective for Australia. We stood for a confident, more global perspective. We sought to define both our country and its role in the world. At heart, we have a fundamental belief in free markets, free people and free speech,” Murdoch said.

“Our mission has become even more crucial in recent years as the global economy has grown in scope and complexity, and the information age has transformed lives. We are flooded with information—and misinformation—but are we better informed? We live in a data-driven world, but data can also drive to distraction. We live in an age of ever-greater opportunity, but it is not opportunity without responsibility,” he added.

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In a wide-ranging speech he praised “small government” and said we should embrace the opportunities of immigration, which he said had been stalled in the U.S. He added that Australia has "an unprecedented opportunity to prosper from its fortunate geography,” sitting as it does “across four countries—China, India, Japan and Indonesia—that are increasingly important for Australia, as they are on our doorstep."

Murdoch said he was “genuinely proud” of The Australian, which has attracted a faster-growing audience in the digital age.

“To talk of future decades in the context of a newspaper will seem odd to those of little faith, who believe that print is doomed and that mastheads are moribund. That is absolutely not the case with our newspapers in Australia or The Australian newspaper,” he said.

“Done intelligently, digital delivery enhances newspapers. I am genuinely proud that the paper which began life in the suburbs of Canberra has become the most influential multi-platform news organization in the country. Our iPad app, Web and mobile products have created new audiences, with 180,000 people paying daily and an estimated 3.2 million readers seeing it at least once a month.”

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Murdoch’s speech followed a one-hour interview on Sky News Australia (part owned by BSkyB) with Paul Kelly, a former editor, which aired on Sunday, in which Murdoch criticized the former Labor government’s National Broadband Network, which continues under the new conservative government as a slower mixed-technology rollout. 

"The NBN was a ridiculous idea, and still is," Murdoch said.

“People think I’m talking from my pocket and Foxtel,” he said, referring to the pay TV operator half-owned by News Corp. “In fact, NBN would be great for Foxtel, because it would take all those programs into every home.”

Murdoch said he thought mobile technology had overtaken the need for the NBN, saying, "We probably have the best mobile telephone system in the world."

He also said the issue of climate change deserves to be treated with "much skepticism."

"If the sea level rises six inches, that's a big deal in the world, the Maldives might disappear or something, but okay, we can't mitigate that, we can't stop it, we have to stop building vast houses on seashores," he said.

"The world has been changing for thousands and thousands of years," he added, saying that, if the temperature rises three degrees in 100 years, then "at the very most, one of those would be man-made."

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