Aussie Watchdog Comments on Role of Rupert Murdoch's Papers in Election Coverage

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"A paper's editorial viewpoints and its advocacy of them must be kept separate from its news columns," it says after complaints about the anti-government stance of News Corp titles.

LONDON – Australia's press regulator on Tuesday chimed in on the debate about the role of the newspapers of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp in the country's current election campaign.

The Australian Press Council in a letter reminded editors to provide accurate accounts of public issues after complaints that Murdoch newspapers had taken a clear stance against current prime minister Kevin Rudd ahead of the Sept. 7 election.

"Newspapers that profess to inform the community about its political and social affairs are under an obligation to present to the public a reasonably comprehensive and accurate account of public issues," wrote Julian Disney, the group's chairman, according to Reuters. "As a result, the council believes that it is essential that a clear distinction be drawn between reporting the facts and stating opinion. A paper's editorial viewpoints and its advocacy of them must be kept separate from its news columns."

News Corp is Australia's biggest newspaper publisher with an estimated 70 percent of big-city paper sales. Its Sydney Daily Telegraph has taken an anti-Rudd stance recently urged readers on its front page to "kick this mob out."

The Australian Press Council is an industry self-regulator that deals with complaints against papers. But its findings are not legally binding.

On Monday night, the Australian Broadcasting Corp.'s show Media Watch reported that an analysis of the Telegraph's first week of election coverage showed half of its 80 stories were slanted against the Labour Party government, while none were against the conservative opposition.

Also on Monday, Tom Watson, a member of the British parliament for the opposition Labour Party, said that Australia's main parties should team up to fight the "dangerous" influence of Murdoch's News Corp.

He also said that the recent move of former New York Post editor-in-chief Col Allan to advise News Corp's papers in Australia meant he played the role of a "hitman" being sent to "enforce the editorial line."

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