Rupert Murdoch could be forced to appear before royal commission, Greens say

The Greens will introduce a bill to establish a royal commission into Murdoch-controlled media assets and media diversity, with aims to compel Rupert Murdoch to give evidence, and investigate whether fears of retribution in the press have “hampered public policy”.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young will introduce the bill into Parliament on Thursday and move to refer it to a Senate inquiry shortly afterwards. It would establish a parliamentary commission of inquiry and would have the full powers of a royal commission, including the ability to deploy resources and call witnesses.

“The revelations in the Dominion case against Fox News were just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the influence of the Murdoch media,” Hanson-Young told Crikey.

“Rupert Murdoch seemed to do everything he could to get out of giving evidence, leaving us wondering what might have been uncovered. It’s now even more imperative that Rupert Murdoch is called to give evidence before a royal commission in Australia.”

The inquiry would set out to probe whether Australia’s regulatory framework is fit for purpose, and investigate the impact of media ownership laws on media concentration in Australia. If the bill gets up, an inquiry would report to Parliament, not the government.

It would also scrutinise the relationship between the media and government, whether fear of retribution in the press has hampered the creation of public policy, and mount a case for establishing a single, independent media regulator to “harmonise news media standards” and handle complaints.

“Pressure is continuing to build to hold the Murdoch media mafia to account for the role they have played in the polarisation of politics and their rampant spreading of misinformation,” Hanson-Young said.

“Australia’s media regulatory framework is not fit for purpose and needs an overhaul. Media regulators in this country are toothless and powerless to act in the public interest under the huge political and market influence of the Murdoch machine.”

The bill arrives amid a wave of renewed criticism of the Murdoch media empire, which in recent months has found itself at the centre of three high-profile defamation lawsuits.

Late last month, Fox Corp sought to abruptly settle its defamation lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems with a payment of US$787.5 million to prevent claims from going to trial that Fox News had peddled misinformation and conspiracy theories about the 2020 US presidential election. The agreement emerged as one of the largest public settlements in US history.

Days later, Fox Corporation chief executive Lachlan Murdoch dropped a separate defamation case against Private Media, publisher of Crikey, over an opinion article published in June 2022 headlined “Trump is a confirmed unhinged traitor. And Murdoch is his unindicted co-conspirator”.

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who in late March was tapped to co-chair the campaign for a News Corp royal commission alongside union veteran Sharan Burrow, said the Dominion case filings “considerably strengthened” the case for a royal commission in Australia.

“The reality is that Murdoch [and] Fox News knowingly propagated a lie, which they knew to be a lie. I mean, this brought the country to the very edge of a coup,” Turnbull told Crikey in March.

Fox News still faces action from another voting technology company, Smartmatic, which is suing the Murdoch-controlled cable news network for damages worth $2.7 billion over claims that Fox News accused the company of helping to rig the 2020 election in favour of US President Joe Biden.

A prospective royal commission would move to canvass how best to prevent similar events from occurring in Australia. The inquiry, according to the bill’s terms of reference, would interrogate the “Foxification” of some media outlets operating in Australia, and how they might undermine trust in public institutions and public interest journalism.

It would also analyse the political influence of major media outlets operating in Australia, and the impact of tech companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter on the media industry, and their influence on the way news is shared locally.

“The first recommendation of the Senate inquiry into media diversity in Australia was to conduct a judicial inquiry with the powers of a royal commission to investigate media regulation in Australia,” Hanson-Young said.

“I invite all members of Parliament to support the bill and stand up for public interest journalism and truth in our democracy.”