News Limited has been in the news itself, and some, over the past couple of weeks as a result of The News of the World's large-scale hacking of mobile phones. As if there was previously any doubt that the ethics of News's tabloid empire were hopelessly flawed. A set of newspapers that earns its revenue by hounding and exploiting celebrities is only just marginally less sad than a society that buys these newspapers in huge numbers.
However, there is more to News's ethical problems than just invasions of privacy, and they extend beyond the realms of tabloid journalism. The front page headline of today's Weekend Australian is a good (or should I say awful?) example.
Business turns up the heat on ALP
And in smaller type above the bold heading: "Thought bubble" policies criticised.
The body of the article reports comments by Ziggy Switkowski (former Telstra CEO and soon to be Suncorp chairperson), Lindsay Maxsted (Transurban and Westpac chairperson) and John Macfarlane (Deutche Bank executive chairperson). All of them criticise the current Commonwealth Government for lack of leadership and lack of long-term policies, with Switkowski citing the NBN and the Carbon Tax as examples of "thought bubble" policies that are not fully worked through.
Their comments are hardly surprising although I'm a little mystified as to how the NBN and Carbon Tax are either short term or poorly thought through. We all know which Australian political leader is most inclined to emit thought bubbles. Still, these men are entitled to their opinions and that's not what worries me here.
If you read the article with even a small amount of attention (i.e. if you look beyond the predictably government-bashing headline) you will see that the report is based on the proceedings of The Australian and Deutche Bank Business Leaders Forum. Yes, you read that right, the Australian has based its lead story on an event it organised itself. It set the platform and the agenda, decided who to invite, then reported the results on the front page in bold type. The Australian is no longer reporting the news, it is now manufacturing it.
A number of Labor Government ministers have said they believe News has an explicit policy of working to bring down the Gillard government. News executives strenuously deny this. Policy or not it seems to be what they are doing. They have shifted from being observers and commentators on Australian politics to being active, partisan participants.
News controls two thirds of Australia's daily newspapers and has cornered the market in some states. Lachlan Murdoch is also chairperson of Channel 10. That's a lot of control over information to be held by a partisan player. News has a lot of resources to throw at this - it's a global media conglomerate the scale of which rivals that of the Australian government itself. And of course, even though its origins are Australian, its interests are primarily in the USA and Europe. There is no necessary alignment between the interests of News Limited and those of anybody in Australia, never mind ordinary Australians.
So in a sense, phone hacking is just a distraction. We do need an inquiry into Australian media ownership, but not because there might be hacking here. We need to ask ourselves, do we want the information we get controlled by a company that is so profundly ethically compromised?