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SYDNEY – Despite technically being a U.S. citizen, Rupert Murdoch showed his Australian heritage in an upbeat speech delivered Thursday at Sydney-based public policy think tank, the Lowy Institute, urging his countrymen by birth to embrace the 21st century that is “theirs for the taking.”
Speaking from the perspective of someone who, according to Lowy Institute founder and businessman Frank Lowy, is a “true citizen of the world,” the chairman and CEO of News Corp and 21st Century Fox said the 21st century will be “a century of disruption” and that “Australia must be the economy that thrives on disruption.”
“I guess some would say that I have been a disruptive influence at times. I will take that as a compliment, even if it wasn’t intended that way,” Murdoch said.
“I have always been a firm believer in providing the public with choice and access to quality content — it was the driving force behind the launch of Sky, Fox News, and, particularly, The Australian [newspaper]. But when I think of the newspaper industry today, and the transition that has taken place from Gutenberg to Google, I know the status quo is being disrupted yet again. This is the hard reality of living in a global economy,” he said.
But he added, “the same opportunity for global growth is there for Australia, if we can make ourselves more nimble.”
Murdoch said “the most revolutionary disruption in the last decade has been the stunning growth of mobile communications,” giving us “access to knowledge almost anywhere in the world — instantly and at an affordable price.
“For me, it’s right here in my pocket, on my iPhone, where I can get my Australian, my Wall Street Journal, The Times of London and my personalized stock quotes, any time I want.
“That is a huge leap for an industry that once had to rely on trucks and news agents alone to deliver news to readers,” he said of the changes that have shaped News Corp over more than five decades.
“The disruptive forces in the world economy today are as relentless as they are remorseless. But once we embrace that reality, we can make sure they are rewarding.”
Talking to a friendly audience, Murdoch’s speech was rousing and positive. He said Australia was a nation best placed to “become an egalitarian meritocracy with a dash of libertarianism” and that Australians should not be “angst ridden” about their place in the world but “are people who define our own destiny.”
It was the opposite in tone to that taken by News Corp’s Australian newspapers while agitating for the removal of the left-leaning Labor party from power during the run-up to September’s national election.
And it’s a long way from the legal troubles currently engulfing the U.K. arm of his company, as the second day of legal action brought against former News International executives including Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson for their role in the News of the World phone hacking scandal gets underway in London.
Although he didn’t comment on those affairs directly, Murdoch referred to the need to continue to have a free and independent press and courts.
“You can’t have the rule of law if the courts aren’t free and independent — or if you have lawyers running amok as they do in the American system. We cannot allow the rule of law to become the rule of lawyers!”
“You can’t have a free democracy if you don’t have a free media that can provide vital and independent information to the people,” he added.
And, speaking about innovation, the octogenarian revealed that he’s a user of Jawbone — an electronic bracelet that keeps track of how he sleeps, move and eats, transmitting that information to the cloud and allowing he and his family to track and maintain his health. That in turn he says “encourages more personal and social responsibility — instead of just running to the doctor when we don’t feel well.”
Murdoch predicts that soon we will have similar watches and apps that keep track of our heart rate, our blood sugar, our brain signals, innovations that will change the health sector.
“In the coming century, the commanding heights of the global economy will be held by those who embrace the spirit of innovation — and turn it to their advantage,” Murdoch said.
And he finished by saying that Australians need to better embrace the Asia Pacific region and take advantage of having neighbors like Indonesia and China.
“All around us, we face something this region has never had before: a wealthy, educated and globally competitive middle class of more than 2 billion people,” he said. “That is not something we need to fear. That is something we need to lead. And we can do it with a society that values people and knowledge.”
The speech was carried live on the Australian Broadcasting Corp’s news channel, ABCNews24, and streamed live on The Australian newspaper’s website.
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