The Media & Communications in Australia

By Stuart Cunningham; Graeme Turner | Go to book overview

3
Political economy and news
Rod Tiffen

MEDIA POWER

In Chapter 2, political economy was identified as one of the strongest and longest traditions in media and communications studies. This chapter looks more closely at one of the central issues in political economy—how we understand and analyse the power and influence exerted by media owners.

While media scholars debate the extent of media power, politicians act as if there is no doubt. The bipartisan consensus towards currying favour with the strongest media proprietors has been a staple of Australian politics since 1983. The power of Murdoch and Packer, and sometimes the eagerness of politicians to do their bidding, have provided many juicy anecdotes. When the Hawke Labor government was debating media policy in 1985–86, prime ministerial adviser Peter Barron (who later went to work for Packer) is reputed to have walked into Communications Minister Duffy's office, and said ‘this is what the boss wants’, giving them a fax from Channel Nine. Hawke's supposed recommendations had not even been transferred to the prime minister's notepaper (Barry 1993, pp 326–27). According to a Four Corners program (7/4/1997), when in 1994 Packer wanted control of the soon to be opened Sydney casino, James Packer called state Liberal MPs saying that he had a message from the ‘old man’ that if we don't get the casino licence, then you're ‘f—-d’. When the Labor government approached John Menadue about joining the Telstra board, they quizzed him about whether he would be a supporter of Murdoch. Soon afterwards, he discovered why. He was the only dissenter when, in accordance with the government's wishes, Telstra made a deal with Murdoch to form Foxtel on terms very favourable to the latter (Menadue 1999, pp 279–80).

Such anecdotes have their own fascination—there are so many that at least some of them must be true! But how do they relate to media power? As social

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