Twitter vies with ‘Sun King’ Murdoch in Australian election

Twitter and Facebook become weapons against Murdoch’s old media


Australia’s prime minister Kevin Rudd is battling not only jaded voters in a bitter election race, but the rancour of Rupert Murdoch, whose newspapers have depicted Mr Rudd as everything from a Nazi colonel to a thief stealing the nation’s savings.

The Australian-born Mr Murdoch’s crusade to oust Mr Rudd in the September 7th general election has given rise to a heated social media campaign inside a campaign, as Twitter, Facebook and other digital platforms become the weapons used by some to try to outflank Mr Murdoch’s “old media”.

As the campaign kicked off last week, Mr Murdoch’s best-selling Daily Telegraph tabloid urged readers to “Kick This Mob Out” over a picture of Mr Rudd at Parliament House.

In another front page from Mr Murdoch’s News Corp stable, Mr Rudd and top lieutenants were shown as the hapless Nazi guards from the 1960s “Hogan’s Heroes” television show, while another greeted a high-profile recruit to Mr Rudd and Labour’s centre-left cause with the headline “Send in the Clown”.

In the finely poised western Sydney seat of Parramatta, Julie Owens a member of parliament for Mr Rudd’s Labour party, says the influence of the Murdoch press is hurting, with the billionaire’s papers having adopted an even more confrontational stance than in past years.

“People aren’t as aware of what we have done, and they can’t judge us as a government,” says Ms Owens. “They can only judge us as a reality TV show - who is evil, who is bad, who is hard done by - and that’s what the news has become.”

Exactly what Mr Murdoch’s motivations are have been much debated. Many people think Murdoch is using his 70 per cent grip on big-city newspaper sales to protect the dominance of his prized cable TV investments from emerging digital media threats, chiefly a publicly funded $34 billion super broadband network championed by Mr Rudd.

Mr Murdoch lent credence to that theory, taking to Twitter to criticise “Oz politics!” and question how the cross-continent broadband - which the conservative opposition wants to scale back in cost and scope - could be paid for in Australia’s AAA-rated but slowing economy.

“News Corp hates the government’s National Broadband Network (NBN). The company has formed a view that it poses a threat to the business model of by far its most important asset in Australia, the Foxtel cable TV monopoly,” wrote columnist Paul Sheehan for the rival Fairfax newspaper group.

Telecommunications analysts don’t doubt Labour’s NBN, rolling fibre cable into almost every home, threatens Murdoch’s most important Australian asset, Foxtel, jointly owned with phone giant Telstra and near unchallenged in pay TV. “Broadband, in general, undermines the business model that Foxtel and others have, where you have to buy a package of programmes that you don’t want, and 90 per cent of which is rubbish,” said telecommunications analyst Paul Budde.

But the 82-year-old, who has earned the nickname the “Sun king”, also appears to be favouring conservative politics as he has done in Britain and the United States, while reinvigorating an Australian political war that dates back as far as 1975 and the dismissal of then Labour prime minister Gough Whitlam.

Back then, Mr Murdoch oversaw coverage that was seemingly so one-sided in favour of opposition conservatives, and controversial, that his own journalists went on strike.

Mr Rudd has also fought battles with Mr Murdoch’s papers over ultimately false accusations of political favours supposedly done in 2009 for a car dealer friend, and again over ill-fated attempts to tighten Australian media regulation following phone hacking scandals in Britain.