Alex Mitchell’s Weekly Notebook – Murdoch’s shadow looms over Turnbull

Rupert Murdoch’s media empire in Australia hesitated after the successful party room coup against Liberal Party prime minister Tony Abbott on September 24.
The lumpen columnists who had barracked incessantly for “The Mad Monk” resented the arrival of Malcolm Turnbull and, quite frankly, they were disoriented. Which way should they jump now?
Once the message came through from their 84-year-old paymaster in Manhattan, they began to hail the glorious dawn of the Turnbull era. (“PM for a positive transformation” by “Pope” Paul Kelly, editor-at-large of The Australian, 24-25 October 2015)
So why did Murdoch switch so swiftly to Turnbull?
Turnbull is quite probably a two, or even three, term prime minister and during these coming years, Murdoch has greedy commercial ambitions for his pay television (Sky) network, the internet and his burgeoning newspaper empire. Along the way, he wants to crush the public broadcasters, ABC and SBS.
A check of Murdoch’s past history may provide some guidance to his current strategy. Shortly after Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher broke England’s Monopolies Commission laws to allow Murdoch to take over The Times and Sunday Times, the “Dirty Digger” persuaded Thatcher to appoint Times Newspapers chief executive Marmaduke Hussey as chairman of the BBC board of governors.
Hussey had almost destroyed the Daily Mail when he worked for Associated Newspapers and took Times Newspapers to the brink of collapse when he masterminded a 12-month lockout of printers and journalists in 1978-79.
Three months after starting at the BBC he forced the resignation of the highly regarded director-general Alasdair Milne, father of senior Guardian journalist Seumas Milne, and then, during his second term, began a remorseless campaign to destroy jobs and break staff morale – all for the benefit of Murdoch’s then struggling pay television channel BSkyB.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was hovering around the Sunday Times in the late 1970s but none of the editorial staff can remember him writing anything. However, he gratuitously offered some legal advice to the locked-out journalists: they remain bemused by his deep sense of self-importance.
The bumbling Hussey succeeded in sabotaging the British national broadcaster while Premier League soccer delivered subscribers and ratings to BSkyB. So far as Murdoch was concerned it was “mission accomplished”.
Now adjust your remote controls to tune into Canberra. When Mark Scott’s successor as managing director of the ABC is announced early next year, we will all know whether Turnbull is in charge or Murdoch is still pulling the strings.
My tip is that the job will go to some “Flash Harry” from commercial television – who is also an ardent Murdoch admirer. In other words, another “Duke” Hussey.

Sleeping policy

Councillor Katherine O’Regan of Woollahra Municipal Council who runs her own corporate strategy consultancy is a drooling supporter of her local federal MP, Malcolm Turnbull.
His recent elevation to the prime ministership so excited Ms O’Regan that she wrote an article commending his views on making big cities more liveable.
The Liberal Party councillor who once served as chief of staff to NSW environment minister Robyn Parker and is a director of the reactionary think tank, the so-called Sydney Institute, wrote about changing lifestyles in capital cities like Sydney and Melbourne.
“Today we work in cafés and corridors, we choose not to own but to share cars, we have a voice to guide us through traffic and we are prepared to sleep in a stranger’s apartment.” (“The promise of liveable cities”, The Sydney Standard, October 2015)
Really? Ms O’Regan might welcome such an experience and so might the Turnbulls, Malcolm and Lucy. But it’s not for me.
Perhaps the Liberal Party should include this exciting advance in metro-living in its next election manifesto.

Medievalism returns

The Liberal-National NSW Government has a new ally in its plan to introduce chemical castration – the firing squad government of Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
Next month a presidential directive will make the chemical treatment legal against child sex offenders, thereby avoiding a vote in the Indonesian Parliament.
Indonesia is the second Asian country to adopt chemical sterilisation of convicted sex offenders. The first was freedom-loving South Korea.
In Europe the only country that has legalised chemical castration is Poland, the deeply Catholic nation which hosted the Nazi extermination camps during World War Two. In Polish elections last weekend, the right-wing Law and Justice party was returned to government after a decade in oblivion. The result was an indication of hardening anti-Russian and anti-immigrant obsessions.
And various states in the US have also instituted chemical sterilisation in their penal regimes to satisfy Tea Party bigots, religious nutters and the pharmaceutical industry promoting the scheme.
NSW Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton, the State’s first female law officer, has established a working party to consider its application in the former British penal colony founded in 1788. Her party’s “Polish” faction not only wants prisoners subjected to this “treatment” but courts to be able to order it.
However, I suspect that the first time that a priest, a politician’s son, a judge or a police officer is convicted of serial paedophilia, the chemical castration option will be dead, buried and cremated.

Spy swap movie

Stephen Spielberg’s Hollywood movie Bridge of Spies about the 1962 spy exchange between Soviet agent Rudolf Abel and U-2 pilot Gary Powers is a remarkably good film which I urge you to see.
There is one glaring weakness, however, but it does not detract from the overall power of the film, scripted by Ethan and Joel Coen and Matt Charman.
Abel was an alias adopted by the Soviet agent. His real name was William August Fisher and he was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the former shipbuilding city in England’s north-west. His parents weren’t “Geordies” but Russian emigrés, Heinrich and Lyubov Fisher, early Bolshevik revolutionaries who were jailed by the Tsarist authorities. They fled to England in 1901 to join Lenin, and later Trotsky, in exile.
William and his brother Henry won scholarships to Whiteley Bay High School and Monkseaton High School where they excelled.
After the victory of the Bolshevik revolution in October 1917 the family returned to Russia to help build the first workers’ state.
From this time forward, William’s story becomes difficult to trace but it is clear he joined the GPU, forerunner of the KGB, and became a senior Soviet intelligence officer.
Captured by the FBI in New York in 1957 after a tip-off, Fisher/Abel refused to speak to his captors or confess. In the face of hysteria on Capitol Hill and the media, he escaped the electric chair (the barbaric fate of the Rosenbergs) and received 30 years’ jail.
His exchange for Gary Powers, authorised by President John Kennedy and negotiated by New York lawyer Jim Donovan, is brilliantly recreated by Mark Rylance, who deserves an Oscar, playing Abel, with Tom Hanks as Donovan.
There is an ever-so-vague passing reference to the spy’s English heritage but I suppose Spielberg thought that it was safer to ignite Cold War prejudices against Russia than openly admit the fact that there were more English double agents than Cambridge alumni, Kim Philby, Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess.

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