News Corp has rejected claims by former prime minister Kevin Rudd that the company holds an unhealthy monopoly in Australia, saying the local media industry had never been so diverse.
Michael Miller, executive chairman of News Corp Australasia, said the claim ignored the digital revolution, which had seen audiences increasingly go online for their news and led to a sharp decline in sales of printed newspapers.
He told a Senate committee inquiring into media diversity that Australia’s top 10 news websites painted a “picture of diversity, not monopoly.’’
“Ranked by audience numbers the biggest news website is the ABC’s followed by Nine News and then News Corp’s news.com.au,’’ Mr Miller said.
“The top 10 sites include three sites operated by Nine, two from News, along with sites of the Daily Mail and the Guardian, Seven News and Australian Community Media.’’
Mr Miller and News Corp Australia group executive corporate affairs and policy Campbell Reid also rejected suggestions the company’s executive chairman, Rupert Murdoch, dictated editorial direction and instructed editors on what to write.
Mr Reid, who worked for a decade as a senior editor, said Mr Murdoch rarely reached out to the company’s editors in Australia.
“Occasionally, very occasionally you’ll get a phone call or contact from Rupert and he will be overwhelmingly asking to understand something that’s occurring in the country,’’ Mr Reid said.
Country Liberal Party Senator Sam McMahon asked what directions Mr Miller gave the company’s editors on how and what to publish politically.
“I don’t give directions what to publish politically,’’ he said.
Asked if they had the right to choose what to publish, he replied: “they do.’’
Mr Miller also said there were days when he did not agree with the views of the editors, or the opinion columnists.
“But I would defend their right to have those,’’ he said.
The inquiry, chaired by Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, was established after Mr Rudd, a former Labor PM, organised a petition which attracted 500,000 signatures.
Mr Rudd appeared before the committee on Friday arguing for a royal commission, and claiming News Corp had undue power due to its 70 per cent control of Australia print media business.
“The truth is, as prime minister, I was fearful of the Murdoch media beast. That’s just the truth of it. I could pretend that I wasn’t, but I was,” Mr Rudd said.
“The Murdoch media monopoly is the monopoly which dare not speak its name. We can’t mention the M word, because we know it invites retribution.
“That’s just dead wrong for any democracy,” Mr Rudd said.
Mr Miller said a number of Mr Rudd’s claims were wrong.
Mr Rudd claimed News Corp had run “a rolling systematic campaign against climate change action in this county”.
“It has had a palpable effect on the politics,” Mr Rudd said.
But Mr Miller told the inquiry Mr Murdoch was a believer in the science of global warming.
“He (has) made it clear, we are not climate change deniers. Climate change is real,” he said.
Mr Miller said Mr Rudd had also wrongly claimed News Corp had ownership of almost 100 per cent of Queensland newspapers.
“There are 46 newspapers printed in Queensland – News Corp (owns) six of them,’’ Mr Miller said.
“His submission not only lacks fact but I think he has misled this committee.’’
Mr Miller said News Corp across Australia produced around 2200 pieces of content a day, or around 700,000 piece of journalism a year.
He said media diversity was not just about ownership, but “the diversity of views, diversity of sources and importantly the incredible diversity in the way people now access news and information.’’
Mr Miller said the company published a range of opinions and in recent days had published a contribution from Mr Rudd on China, as well as a piece from former Greens Senator Bob Brown.
He rejected a suggestion from Senator Hanson-Young that News Corp could “make or break’’ a prime minister, saying the Australian people made up their own minds about who to vote for.