19/11/2009 - 00:00

Murdoch still making his mark

19/11/2009 - 00:00


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Surely Rupert Murdoch is Australia’s most influencial person ever.

Murdoch still making his mark

STATE Scene has written for two Rupert Murdoch-owned newspapers – The Australian and The Sunday Times.

And, during those 15 or so years, I actually saw the Australian-turned-American media mogul, once, during one of his whistlestop Perth visits to News Ltd’s Stirling Street premises, currently undergoing extensive renovations.

Earlier this year, I caught-up with a retired editor of The Sunday Times, and he posed an interesting question when we reached the inevitable topic of Mr Murdoch.

It must be said that, whenever two or more former News Ltd journalists get-together, their distant boss is invariably discussed.

Little wonder he’s sparked more biographies than Lord Northcliffe, onetime owner of The Times in London, and Canadian-born British media mogul, Lord Beaverbrook.

The former Sunday Times editor said: “I’m convinced Rupert is Australia’s most influential ever person – can you think of anyone who comes anywhere within cooee of him?”

I pondered; hoping to perhaps name someone who was or is more influential.

A name that slowly came to mind was Alfred Deakin, a founding father, former Victorian premier, and a correspondent (a clandestine one) for an English newspaper.

Deakin was undoubtedly influential – but couldn’t challenge Mr Murdoch.

Who else?

Another early prime minister, William Morris “Little Digger” Hughes, was certainly influential, especially at the Treaty of Versailles negotiations. But again, not in the Murdoch league.

Every name I proposed or thought of proposing fell well short: Stanley Bruce? Robert Menzies? – neither man can match Mr Murdoch’s long reach via his global media empire.

Nor does any Australian business figure come close.

Alan Bond? Robert Holmes a Court? Neither matches up.

The only one in this category that came to mind who might be a starter was Essington Lewis (1881-1961), a driving force behind Australia’s modern iron and steel industry through BHP. But even he falls short.

As does that other Australian media baron, the late Kerry Packer, who launched World Series Cricket.

All pale into near insignificance when seen alongside what British anti-Murdoch journalists have dubbed, “The Dirty Digger”.

Like him or hate him – and many thousands out in media-land dislike even hearing the name Murdoch – he’s far and away Australia’s most influential ever individual.

Since Perth’s media reported that he’d visited his Stirling Street News Ltd headquarters last week to inspect how the renovations were progressing, is there something original left to be said of him and his WA links?

After the look over and a cocktail party he hosted an executives’ evening dinner at Fraser’s Restaurant in Kings Park.

Although now more rarely visiting Perth, Mr Murdoch still makes the effort to do so; and for very good historical, as well as financial, reasons that few Western Australians may fully appreciate.

During my time at The Sunday Times, it was put to me thus by someone who’d been there for years and had known the young Rupert in Adelaide in the early 1950s, soon after he’d inherited Adelaide’s News following his father’s death.

He initially set about consolidating his grip on the News.

But even then it seemed clear he didn’t intend to remain a big fish in a little Adelaide pond, so he scanned the horizon for broader waters.

And, interestingly, when looking around, the first newspaper he bought was Perth’s Sunday Times. This was in 1955.

What followed was that several astute sales and advertising people at that paper, rather than just selling full and half-page advertisements to big Perth CBD retailers, decided it was time to make way for “little West Aussie battlers”.

That meant the birth of Readers Mart, which hundreds of thousands of Western Australians would use to trade all sorts of items.

In other words, management wisely democratised The Sunday Times’ advertising base, thereby markedly broadening and diversifying their revenue source.

Today, Readers Mart has been largely displaced by Quokka, which means an era has passed.

But the other rarely considered side of the Readers Mart phenomenon is that it was a gold mine, an ongoing bonanza for Mr Murdoch, who was gearing up for greater expansion.

And much of the money WA traders outlaid weekly on those tiny Readers Mart trading ads was to be used during the 1960s and beyond to help bankroll the acquisition of more newspapers.

After The Sunday Times came Mr Murdoch’s moves into NSW, Victoria and the Northern Territory, with even a move into a small Sydney recording company, Festival Records.

He next bought the New Zealand daily, The Dominion, and in 1964 launched the long-time loss-making The Australian.

In 1972 came Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.

Then it was the prestigious The Times in London and its sister, The Sunday Times.

After the 1980s he moved into the US, buying up television and cable stations, the Fox Network in Hollywood, and New York’s Wall Street Journal.

And he is a significant player in Asia’s media world.

By then, of course, the Murdoch media empire was so large, Readers Mart’s earnings were just a small pot among many other huge ones.

Irrespective of that, it’s important to recall that Western Australians played an early and crucial role in his empire’s emergence and expansion.

But so much for the past.

What does the most influential Australian-born person have to say about matters ahead?

Interestingly, he wasn’t shy in telling all his Australian newspapers what he thought of Kevin Rudd, who many believe is planning to become a major player on the international stage over coming decades.

Here are some of Mr Murdoch’s thoughts.

He said the pivotal American economy, where he has so much invested, is in a fragile state of recovery.

“I think this country [Australia] is in pretty good shape, provided we just get on with things here and don’t try to mess with other people’s problems in the world and show them how to fix things,” he added.

He then stressed that Mr Rudd was “delusional” if he thought Australia could lead the world or act as some sort of bridge between America, with its 305 million-strong population, and China, with its 1.2 million people.

Neither Washington nor Beijing is likely to agree to the preposterous idea that Australia, with just 20 million people, should be some sort of messenger or sooth-sayer between these two economic and military giants. Such a proposition is simply preposterous. And it’s time Mr Rudd recognised this and returned to earth, he said.

Mr Murdoch added that Mr Rudd was also kidding himself on the G-20; the grouping of the world’s top 20 economies that Australia now counts itself within.

“[President] Obama actually wants to cut the even more exclusive G8 to a G4 – and really, to a G2; just the US and China,” he said.

He next turned to climate warming, which Mr Rudd is taking so seriously (perhaps as a possible step up into a big future United Nations job).

“If Rudd thinks we can set an example for the rest of the world with a cap-and-trade system on greenhouse gas emissions – the ETS – all it would do is push up the cost of living in Australia and the rest of the world will laugh,” Mr Murdoch warned.

Let’s not forget Mr Murdoch has been closely associated with WA’s economy since 1955 – two years before Mr Rudd was born in distant Queensland – so he’s likely to have a slightly better appreciation of what will or won’t enhance or damage it.




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