by ALEC SMART
Around 200 protestors lay down on the road surface in front of media tycoon Rupert Murdoch’s Australian publishing headquarters in Holt Street, Surry Hills, on Fri 31 Jan, during the Murdoch News Corp Lie-In Protest. The demonstration was organised by satirist and former Manly district deputy mayor, Brad Pedersen.
In the Facebook event page promoting the demonstration, Pedersen declared: “The only corporate principle of Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp is to constantly lie. Lie, lies, and more lies. Yet Newscorp called the police when I simply wanted to lie down outside their head office. So, I am returning with a crowd of lie-minded friends to defend the right to lie at Newscorp. And to demand an answer to this simple question: ‘WHY CAN’T WE LIE OUTSIDE NEWSCORP….. WHEN NEWSCORP LIES EVERYWHERE ALL THE TIME?’”
Twists and turns
Calling for participants to bring pillows, beach towels, inflatable li-los or yoga mats to recline upon, the event promised: “A yoga instructor will perform a few Murdoch-style yoga postures to demonstrate how to lie, spin, bend and twist everything.” Two yoga practitioners performed humorous twists, including one that involved the whole crowd bending forward and aiming their buttocks to the building behind them.
The day before the public lie-in, Nicholas Gray, the managing director of News Corp’s The Australian, NSW & Prestige Titles, wrote to staff at the Holt St HQ, warning: “We’ve been working with local police, but we are not sure how many protestors are planning to attend, so as a precaution the street outside the building will be blocked off.”
Although red cones cordoned off the News Corp building entrance, the street itself was accessible and NSW Police granted permission for the recliners’ occupation to run from 5.30pm until 9pm.
High-profile guest speakers at the rally included: Deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney Jess Scully; veteran journalist and former ABC presenter John Highfield; Australian Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi; distinguished journalist and City Hub contributor Wendy Bacon; NSW Greens politician Cate Faermann MLC, and Larissa Payne of Extinction Rebellion (XR).
Brad Pedersen explained his motive for organising the 31 Jan action (postponed from earlier in the month due to inclement weather) was to counter the Murdoch media’s dismissal of human-induced climate change as a left-wing conspiracy. He also condemned their use of opinion columnists like Andrew Bolt and Miranda Devine for spreading misinformation – most recently concerning the causes of Australia’s devastating bushfires, which they blamed on environmentalists.
News Corp publications often give equal weight to climate change denialists, many of whom are reactionary conservatives that reject the majority international scientific consensus on global warming and its causes.
Former News Corp chief executive Kim Williams described this type of ethically-challenged reporting as ‘false equivalence’, which involves giving equal prevalence to different viewpoints when one is based on evidence or peer-reviewed research, while the other relies upon unsubstantiated rumours or lobbyists promoting acquisitive interests.
The concentration of media ownership in Australia is one of the highest in the world. According to a July 2016 submission to the New Zealand Commerce Commission, Australia is one of only six countries with single corporations or a government owning an excess of 50% of the nation’s media.
An estimated 57.5 per cent of Australia’s media is owned or controlled by News Corp Australia, which, among its broadcasting and publishing portfolio, operates at least 170 newspaper and magazine titles, five of the top 12 news websites in Australia, a 65% controlling stake in Foxtel TV broadcasting and Sky News, plus 68.87% shares in the Brisbane Broncos’ rugby league team.
News Corp Australia manages nearly 75% of daily metropolitan newspaper circulation across the nation, a significant proportion of which share an editorial policy of supporting politically-conservative interests and politicians.
Pedersen, who vowed to return with more mischief, is a political prankster and no stranger to publicity stunts. In 1994 he campaigned for political office under the nom de guerre Godfrey Bigot, with an election promise to “straighten the curves on the northern beaches,” and was subsequently elected to Manly Council.
According to an article in the 27 Feb 1996 Financial Review, Pedersen, as Godfrey Bigot, “described himself as a demolition entrepreneur specialising in heritage buildings and is the patron of the Koala Shooters Party.” Godfrey Bigot also repeatedly mocked Pauline Hanson, whom many suspect is a genuine bigot.
At the Murdoch Lie-In rally he called for police to arrest Rupert Murdoch as a “tax cheat and climate criminal” before thanking a bagpiper for his “tribute to the windbags in there!”, pointing to the News Corp offices.
Just 48 hours earlier, Extinction Rebellion protestors dumped a tonne of manure outside the Queensland headquarters of News Corp. Three activists then erected placards saying ‘Billionaire liars, Media monopoly, Climate denial. We call bullshit!’, before gluing their hands onto the front of the building.
On 10 Jan, a senior News Corp employee, commercial finance manager Emily Townsend, accused the company of “misinformation” in an explosive email addressed to executive chairman Michael Miller, into which she copied in all News Corp staff.
She berated the media empire for misrepresenting facts and deliberately spreading misinformation, including dismissing climate change in order to blame arson as the primary cause of Australia’s devastating bushfires – arson was also dismissed by senior fire chiefs and forestry experts.
In the email, forwarded to The Guardian newspaper by News Corp employees, Townsend said: “I find it unconscionable to continue working for this company, knowing I am contributing to the spread of climate change denial and lies. The reporting I have witnessed in The Australian, the Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun is not only irresponsible, but dangerous and damaging to our communities and beautiful planet that needs us more than ever now to acknowledge the destruction we have caused and start doing something about it.”
City Hub‘s reporting on Australia’s apocalyptic bushfires: http://cityhubsydney.com.au/?s=bushfires