Malcolm Turnbull has told an inquiry that he was concerned by the front pages of News Corp newspapers while Prime Minister, calling the media company “the most powerful political actor in Australia”.
Speaking at a senate inquiry into Australian media diversity on Monday, Mr Turnbull claimed News Corp – the publisher of this article – contributed to his downfall in 2018.
“The most powerful political actor in Australia is not the Liberal Party or the National Party or the Labor Party, it is News Corporation,” he said.
“And it is utterly unaccountable. It is controlled by an American family and their interests are no longer, if they ever were, coextensive with our own.”
Mr Turnbull admitted he was concerned about News Corp’s coverage while in office.
“Of course you have to take all those things into account,” he said.
“(Politicians) are dealing with reality. I mean, is a government ‘weak’ because it makes concessions to the crossbench in the Senate, in order to get legislation passed?
“Of course it’s not weak; if it wants to get the legislation passed. It’s got to make a deal, we all understand that.”
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young suggested the News Corp’s front pages “set the tone and agenda for the rest of the media for the rest of the day”.
“(They) then get picked up by morning radio morning television and before you know it, the evening news is all about whether you’re going to be sacked,” she said.
Mr Turnbull agreed Ms Hanson-Young had delivered “a fair assessment”.
But he noted newspapers “ran the agenda” less than during the 1970s.
“There’s no doubt there’s a lot of what you say that is largely correct,” he said.
In February, News Corp executive Michael Miller appeared before the same inquiry, where he rejected claims of a media monopoly in Australia.
He argued media “diversity is not just about ownership”.
“The old habits of reading just one newspaper, choosing one radio or TV station, are being replaced by a world embracing unlimited information,” he said.
“Australians are smart people who make up their own minds about what media they consume, who they back politically, and what they feel.”
Mr Turnbull’s comments come after the NSW government last week walked back its bid to appoint to appoint him to a climate policy board following a revolt from the conservative wing of the party.
NSW Energy Minister Matt Kean suggested the former prime minister remained the best person for the job on merit, but claimed his appointment was politically untenable.
Mr Turnbull claimed to the inquiry he was the victim of a “ferocious” media campaign which led to his dumping.
“I agreed to do (it) as a good citizen. It wasn’t something I was busting my neck to do but I was happy to do it,” he said.
“A ferocious campaign was launched by the Murdoch media … and the government crumbled, they could not take the heat.”
Mr Turnbull also claimed his ousting as prime minister was the result of a similar media “conspiracy”, and said coverage of climate change hindered progress on the issue.
“Their agenda is obviously opposed to effective action on climate change. That’s a hot button for them,” he said.
But Mr Miller has previously rejected similar accusations from another former prime minister, Kevin Rudd, who also gave evidence at the inquiry.
Mr Miller said Mr Rudd’s comments on News Corp and climate change after leaving office were “a convenient distraction from their own failings” in office.
News Corp printed 3000 stories around the time of the bushfires, many referencing climate change as a causal factor, Mr Miller said.
Mr Turnbull also said News Corp was obsessed with criticising the ABC and described the public broadcaster as “more important than ever”.
During a five month period in 2018, his Communications Minister Mitch Fifield launched six complaints against the ABC over its coverage.
Mr Turnbull said Labor’s claim during the 2016 election that he would cut funding to Medicare – which he labelled the ‘Mediscare’ – showed social media was a main driver of disinformation.
“(It) was laughed out of every television studio in the country,” he said.
“Nonetheless (it) got enormous traction and was very, very potent and damaging to us in a number of electorates, because it was being channelled directly through social media and digital text messages.”