Murdoch’s tobacco addiction

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It’s been sad to watch the demise of the Australian, to see the fine work of some good journalists employed there overshadowed and effectively trashed by the paper’s hectoring ideological crusades.

Having made itself the house rag of the IPA and Liberal Party, the paper seems more than a little lost without a Labor government to conduct war against. Thus it is reduced to bayonetting relics of past battles.

The Australian now rejoices in the vindictive spirit of Tony Abbott’s Pink Batts royal commission – an exercise that exploits the death of young workers for the most tawdry of political motives. (If only Saddam had Pink Batts instead of not having weapons of mass destruction, we might have a royal commission into Australia’s role in that disaster.)

While Mark Latham can be a dubious source, his AFR column this week ( ) nailed the Australian’s pursuit of AWU corruption – the Oz and its fellow travellers weren’t after the truth, they were just after Gillard. And they’ve failed.

The pettiness of News Corpse’ pursuits reached new lows with its attempts to disparage tobacco plain packaging by retailing Big Tobacco’s unreliable numbers and then snarling at those who pointed out the folly.

Why would a newspaper bother to so contort itself? Former colleague Glenn Dyer provided context in Crikey on June 17. Unfortunately his article is still behind Crikey’s paywall, but the issues are important enough to warrant reporting it here:

News Corp’s tobacco addiction. Last night Media Watch joined the chorus slamming the Oz’s scoop on how plain packaging was supposedly causing smoking rates to rise. We now know how the Oz misread the statistics on sales and consumption and failed to relate that to the rise in tobacco excise at the end of December. As usual when excises rise, retailers order more of a product (beer is another example) to build up stocks of the lower taxed product. Tobacco was no different. Tobacco sales by the cigarette companies will have fallen in the early months of 2014, but don’t expect the Oz to explore that line.

Media Watch pointed out the links between the author of the story, journalist Christian Kerr, and right-wing lobby group the Institute of Public Affairs. But Media Watch could have gone further and detailed the 25 years of links between Big Tobacco and News Corp, which owns The Australian — not to mention Rupert Murdoch.

If you go back in time, you’ll see that Rupert Murdoch was a director of tobacco company Philip Morris. And if you check the News Corp board, you also find that current director Peter Barnes was a senior executive of Philip Morris for years, including heading up Philip Morris International. And if you google News Corp, Murdoch and tobacco companies you pick up this link, which contains the following:

“A 1985 draft speech for Philip Morris’ CEO for a marketing meeting noted that the media company was already on side. ‘We plan to build similar relationships to those we now have with Murdoch’s News Limited with other newspaper proprietors,’ the memo said. ‘Murdoch’s papers rarely publish anti-smoking articles these days.’

“A second document for the same meeting created two days later asked the question: ‘how can we change the public’s view towards smoking?’ After outlining various strategies to turn back the tide, the memo makes the point that… we are not using our very considerable clout with the media. A number of media proprietors that I have spoken to are sympathetic to our position — Rupert Murdoch and Malcolm Forbes are two good examples. The media like the money they make from our advertisements and they are an ally that we can and should exploit.”

These documents were revealed, the posting says, as part of the 1998 tobacco industry settlement with US governments. The documents detail the close links between News, Rupert Murdoch and Philip Morris.

“In 1989, Murdoch was invited to join the Philip Morris board, where he remained for a dozen years. And Murdoch invited a succession of company executives to sit on his board. One observer called it “a cozy relationship all around”. It was a coup for Philip Morris, giving the company access to broadcast and print editorial pages and a platform from which to disseminate its view of the benefits of smoking. Hamish Maxwell, who had worked for Philip Morris since the first studies linking smoking and cancer were publicized in the early 50s, was appointed to the News Corp board three years after Murdoch joined the Philip Morris board. Maxwell helped develop PM’s international tobacco business, which, as director of marketing, he shaped into a major growth engine. Maxwell left the News Corp board in 1998, and the following year another senior Philip Morris executive joined it. Like Murdoch, Geoffrey Bible was an Australian. Like Maxwell, Bible was a long-time PM employee.”

Peter Barnes followed Geoffrey Bible. The above posting also details other links between Murdoch, News, senior executives, the New York Post, the Fox News pay TV channel and Philip Morris/Big Tobacco.

Kerr’s is just the latest in a long line of pro-tobacco stories that have appeared in News Corp papers here and around the world. — Glenn Dyer


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