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This story first appeared in the Sept. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
When Australian voters go to the polls Sept. 7, it will mark the end of the nastiest election campaign the country has seen in 40 years. But the ugliest battles aren’t between the political foes, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of the center-left Labor Party and Tony Abbott of the conservative Liberal National Coalition. They’re between Rudd and Rupert Murdoch, who is throwing the full weight of his media empire behind an effort to oust Rudd.
Murdoch-owned papers, which control about 70 percent of the local market, have run covers featuring Rudd as a Nazi, as Col. Klink from Hogan’s Heroes and as Mr. Rude from the Mr. Men kids books. News Corp’s Daily Telegraph in Sydney has dropped all pretense of impartiality, publishing a picture of Rudd under the headline, “Let’s Kick This Mob Out!”
Aussie elections tend to be rough affairs, but the tone this year has prompted the country’s Press Council chief Julian Disney to remind media (read: Murdoch) that “a paper’s editorial viewpoints and its advocacy of them must be kept separate from its news columns.”
Murdoch, 82, long has used his media outlets to batter politicians. In the 1975 Australian election, campaign journalists at Murdoch’s The Australian threatened to strike over his reporting demands. He once coordinated a campaign in the U.K. to expel Prime Minster Gordon Brown.
But this year, Murdoch has turned up the heat, even dispatching veteran News Corp flamethrower (and New York Post editor) Col Allan to provide “extra editorial leadership” in Australia. Local media watcher Jonathan Holmes believes Murdoch has become more politically reactionary as he grows older, “especially now that he has parted ways with [estranged wife] Wendi and her leftie Hollywood friends,” Holmes wrote for News Corp rival Fairfax Media.
In the financial press, Murdoch’s anti-Rudd campaign is seen as a deliberate play to use his print assets to protect TV properties such as Australian pay TV giant Foxtel, in which Murdoch holds a 50 percent stake.
Rudd’s plan to build a $43 billion national broadband network would mean greater competition for Foxtel from VOD players such as Quickflix and Fetch TV and, ultimately, perhaps even Netflix and Hulu.
All told, Australian businesses make up a hefty 36 percent of revenue at News Corp since its June split from 21st Century Fox.
Whatever the outcome Sept. 7, Rudd, now considered the underdog, is feeling the heat. As former Murdoch editor Bruce Guthrie put it: “News does not play fair. And it’s not always troubled by the truth.”
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