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Rudd takes on Murdoch as Australian election heats up

© AFP

Text by Sam Ball

Latest update : 2013-08-08

Australian PM Kevin Rudd has accused Rupert Murdoch of using his vast media empire to scupper the Labor Party’s election campaign in order to protect his own commercial interests.

Last Sunday saw Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd call a September 7 general election that pitches the head of the Labor Party against opposition leader Tony Abbott with the latter the favourite to come out on top.

But some argue that whatever promises or policy pledges the two men make during the election campaign, the real power in determining the outcome lies with a third man – Rupert Murdoch.

Despite recent scandals over the behaviour of his UK news organisations, Rupert Murdoch still wields substantial power through his media empire, not least in Australia, the country of his birth.

Just a day after the election was called, Murdoch’s News Corp Australia, the country’s biggest media group, nailed its colours firmly to the mast when one of its papers, the Daily Telegraph, began its election coverage with a picture of Rudd and the banner headline: “Now you finally have a chance to kick this mob out.”

Rudd, whose minority government trails the conservative opposition 48 percent to 52 percent in the latest opinion polls, told reporters on Tuesday there was no doubt Murdoch was attempting to engineer election defeat for Labor.

"I think he's made it fairly clear ... that he doesn't really like us, and would like to give us the old heave-ho," he said.

Commercial interests behind anti-Labor campaign?

Murdoch’s reasons for backing Abbot in the upcoming election are more to do with his commercial interests than his political beliefs, Rudd says.

Rudd claimed that Murdoch viewed Labor’s multi-billion dollar plan for a National Broadband Network (NBN) as a threat to the media magnate's part-owned Foxtel cable TV company.

“What is underneath all this?” Rudd said on ABC news on Wednesday. "Is it to do with the National Broadband Network representing a commercial threat to Foxtel?

The NBN project's faster internet speeds would reportedly make it easier for Australians to download movies and TV shows instead of paying for a Foxtel subscription

Rudd suggested that Abbott’s conservative coalition had used News Corp-owned Fox Studios in Sydney to launch their own proposals for a high-speed broadband network to imply Abbott and Murdoch were colluding.

"I would like to hear some answers as to what discussions Mr Abbott may have had with Mr Murdoch on the future of Australia's National Broadband Network,” he said.

Despite Rudd’s allegations, or perhaps because of them, Murdoch’s media empire shows no sign of letting up on its attacks on the Labor Party.

On Thursday, the Telegraph once again took aim at Rudd, depicting him as Colonel Klink from the popular 1960s comedy Hogan's Heroes, wearing a Nazi uniform and a monocle, under the headline “I Know Nuthink”.

Rudd ‘acting like a jilted lover’

The opposition has also weighed in on the row as the election campaign turns into an increasingly toxic war of words.

Opposition broadband spokesman Malcolm Turnbull said that the Australian PM is acting "more and more like a jilted lover".

"Once the darling of the [Murdoch's] tabloids.... Now his years of sycophancy and duchessing editors with juicy leaks about his colleagues count for nothing. No wonder he's bitter," he told reporters.

Abbot, meanwhile, has denied that he has ever spoken to Murdoch about NBN and suggested Rudd was being oversensitive to stories in the press.

“We have a prime minister with a glass jaw and a thin skin,” he said.

Whatever the case, Rupert Murdoch is sure to play a pivotal role in deciding this election.

News Corp Australia owns around 146 different publications in the country, as well as numerous media websites.

A 2011 government report on the media industry found that publications owned by Murdoch accounted for 58 percent of the circulation of all daily newspapers in Australia, rising to 65 percent for national and metropolitan dailies.

Date created : 2013-08-08

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