Rupert Murdoch’s lifetime achievement award from the UK-based Australia Day Foundation was presented to him from a virtual gala event at Australia House in London and had all the hallmarks of an official honour. The 89-year-old was wearing a large medal on a green ribbon around his neck and standing next to an Australian bottle of wine when he accepted the gong in a pre-recorded video. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some people, including Kevin Rudd, thought the media baron had been recognised by the Australian honours system.
But despite sharing the “Australia Day” name, Murdoch’s award was handed down by a non-profit outfit funded largely by the fossil fuel and banking industry. Sponsors listed on the website include BHP, Anglo American, Rio Tinto and Woodside.
Another sponsor listed on the foundation’s website is Austrade, but the government agency was keen to distance itself from the awards when we asked about its involvement.
“Austrade is not involved in the running of the Australia Day Foundation UK and it did not sponsor its awards,” an Austrade spokeswoman told Weekly Beast. “Austrade did purchase tickets to support the virtual Australia Day gala dinner.”
By Friday morning the Austrade logo had been removed from the sponsor page of the Australia Day Foundation website.
It’s rare to hear from the media mogul these days and his speech did not disappoint as he seized the opportunity to attack what he called the “awful woke orthodoxy” of the times.
“For those of us in media,” Murdoch said in a video posted on the Herald Sun website, “there’s a real challenge to confront: a wave of censorship that seeks to silence conversation, to stifle debate, to ultimately stop individuals and societies from realising their potential.
“This rigidly enforced conformity, aided and abetted by so-called social media, is a straitjacket on sensibility. Too many people have fought too hard in too many places for freedom of speech to be suppressed by this awful woke orthodoxy.”
Murdoch, who was honoured as “an Australian pioneer who transformed the world’s media landscape”, revealed he was not slowing down and his professional journey was “far from done”.
He has just launched Times Radio in the UK and is about to launch a television news channel called News UK TV, led by former Sky News Australia boss Angelos Frangopoulos.
Standing with Dan?
Murdoch’s newspaper the Australian has had its own version of the official Australia Day awards since 1971. This January the broadsheet awarded the gong to Victorians, crowning them “the stoic Aussies who crushed Covid”.
After months of attacks on Daniel Andrews and Victoria’s approach to controlling the Covid-19 virus it was a stunning backflip, and it didn’t go down well with some Victorians. Last year News Corp turned its guns on Andrews, even targeting his wife, Catherine, and constantly called him “Dictator Dan”.
The Australian of the Year article was written by associate editor Caroline Overington, who just two weeks ago had a vastly different opinion of Victorians under the “dreadful” Andrews.
“Citizens of the garden state seem quite willing to accept all manner of injustice as really quite reasonable,” she wrote.
Misreading the room
What would Australia Day be without a few bad takes?
“Happy Invasion Day! And for me at least happy publication day! Killing Sydney is finally here, in libraries and bookshops (Covid willing) henceforth,” wrote Sydney Morning Herald columnist Elizabeth Farrelly. The now-deleted tweet urged people to buy her book and even provided a link.
Then there was Andrew Bolt suggesting prizes for journalists for the most “insanely self-hating attack on Australia on its national day” and attacking “smug whites” for flying the Aboriginal flag on 26 January.
“Yesterday I drove past a beach house displaying the Aboriginal flag with the slogan ‘Always will be Aboriginal land’,” Bolt wrote in the Herald Sun. “Some houses nearby, filled with smug whites, also flew the Aboriginal flag.
“Now, if you think you are enjoying stolen property, shouldn’t you give it back? Or are the flag-flyers just taunting Aborigines? Are [they] jeering that they own black land, know it, but are not giving it back?”
Putting 7.30 last
Now that politicians can get their message out on social media they don’t need to engage with traditional outlets, especially tough ones such as the ABC’s 7.30.
Frustrated by a refusal from Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to be interviewed on 7.30 by Leigh Sales, executive producer Justin Stevens flamed her for making statements on her “iPhone notes app” instead of on TV.
Stevens was backed up by a producer for Deborah Knight’s 2GB radio program, which said the premier had repeatedly knocked back requests for interviews.
Very short list
We told you in November how the Morrison government handpicked unsuccessful Liberal candidate Warren Mundine to sit on the SBS board for five years, overlooking the recommendations of the independent nominations panel.
Now we can reveal the government didn’t even advertise the position when it became vacant, denying prospective candidates the opportunity to be considered. Weekly Beast has confirmed the shortlist of candidates was compiled from an earlier application process in 2020 for the vacant chairperson position.
“The vacancy to which Warren Mundine was appointed arose following the appointment of an existing non-executive director, George Savvides, to the position of chair,” a spokesman for communications minister Paul Fletcher told Weekly Beast.
“Under the SBS Act, in these circumstances the nomination panel can revisit the applications for the chair vacancy and provide the minister with a shortlist of candidates for him to consider when filling the non-executive director vacancy. Expressions of interest in the vacant SBS chairperson position were called for in a range of print and online sources between 20 February and 8 March 2020.”
No average Joe
The federal court judgement in the Elaine Stead v Joe Aston defamation trial was just as colourful and surprising as the trial, which delivered acres of copy for the Australian Financial Review’s rivals late last year, in particular the Australian. This week alone the Oz published seven articles over two days.
The former managing director of a venture capital firm was awarded damages and aggravated damages of $280,000 for defamation by the Australian Financial Review and columnist Aston, who had called her a “feminist cretin”.
Aston’s employers, Nine Entertainment, came out strongly after the scathing judgment, backing the columnist despite the crushing loss.
“Justice Lee accepted that Mr Aston honestly held the opinions in his column and was an ‘impressive’ witness,” Nine said on Wednesday. “The Financial Review is proud of Mr Aston’s work, and we will continue to report on important corporate governance issues without fear or favour.”
Costs will be determined by the court on 3 February, but Nine has estimated that at least $2m has already been spent by both parties.
Lee said Aston was a “talented and oftentimes highly entertaining wordsmith” but a writer “targeting and addressing the perceived folly or sins of others walks a fine line”.
As anyone who reads Rear Window would know, Aston appears to have carte blanche to say whatever he likes. Other writers at Nine say they don’t have that freedom, but Aston is well connected.
“It is a line which reflects the tension between two important rights which the law of defamation seeks to balance: the right to freedom of expression and the right to reputation,” Lee said in the hour-long judgment. “Consistently with protecting the right to expression, which is fundamental to the exchange of ideas, is that liberty is given to express ideas provocatively.”
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