James Murdoch Rising Son | Malcolm Knox | The Monthly
Yes, the free press is fairly near the knuckle on occasion – it is noisy, disrespectful, raucous and quite capable of affronting people. It is frequently the despair of judges and it gets up the noses of politicians on a regular basis. But it is driven by the daily demand and choices of millions of people. It has had the profits to enable it to be fearless and independent. Great journalism does not get enough credit in our society, but it holds the powerful to account and plays a vital part in a functioning democracy.
So why do we continue to assume that this approach is appropriate for broadcasting: especially as one communications medium is now barely distinguishable from another?
There is a word for this. It’s not one that the system likes to hear, but let’s be honest: the right word is authoritarianism and it has always been part of our system.
Like much of what emerges from Murdoch speeches, what James has said here is absolutely laudable … up to a point. It is reminiscent of his father’s Boyer lecture, given last year in Australia, which decried the dumbing down of the country and called for higher standards in education. You cheered and cheered, and then wondered: Does Rupert read the Daily Telegraph? Can he seriously be advocating both higher standards in education and some of what shows up in, say, the Adelaide Advertiser?
James’ MacTaggart lecture eventually descended – or rather ascended – into a fairly simple rant against state control of media, elements of which suggested he may have been suffering amnesia about his time in Asia. One of James’ great coups for Star was a reciprocity deal he struck with the Chinese government. On 19 October 2001, James announced a “historic deal”: the Chinese were allowing Star to broadcast its Chinese-language entertainment channel, Xing Kong Wei Shi, into the mainland (if only into the Pearl River Delta). One of its shows was a Chinese form of ‘court TV’, in which an attractive young female judge presided over cases about such things as whether a man should be allowed to keep his pet donkey in his apartment (he wasn’t). In exchange, China’s state-run CCTV 9 would be carried by Fox on the west coast of the US.