Kevin Rudd accuses News Corp of ‘dog whistling’ over Daniel Andrews reporting

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Kevin Rudd has accused News Corp Australia’s Herald Sun tabloid of ‘boggling conspiracy theorists’ during his election campaign reporting on the fall of Daniel Andrews last year and a nine-year-old car accident involving his woman.

On Tuesday, the newspaper published its second front-page story in five days about the 2013 accident which showed photos of Andrews’ damaged car after it collided with cyclist Ryan Meuleman. The photos matched statements made by the couple at the time of the crash.

The Sunday Herald Sun also devoted its front page to the prime minister’s 2021 accident, titled ‘The steps that brought down a prime minister’. The exclusive story did not provide any new information about the accident, other than a photo of the wooden steps of the Mornington Peninsula vacation rental.

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Rudd, a former Labor prime minister who led a campaign for a News Corp royal commission, said the articles were used to help the Coalition in the upcoming state election.

‘News Corporation is a taxpayer-funded corporation that has a vested interest in electing Liberal governments they believe will do them a favour,’ he told Guardian Australia.

“They can’t beat Prime Minister Andrews on politics, so they’re trying to eliminate him with slander and innuendo. You see the same thing happening with the Courier-Mail and Annastacia Palaszczuk in Queensland.

He also accused the publication of encouraging baseless conspiracy theories.

“By hissing at the conspiracy theorists, the Herald Sun is playing with fire. But the moment a radicalized individual takes action, they will deny responsibility for setting the fuse,” Rudd said.

But former Liberal Premier of Victoria Jeff Kennett said the story about Andrews’ downfall last year was “fair play” as some worried he was “completely transparent “.

However, Ambulance Victoria issued a statement in June 2021 confirming the timeline Andrews had previously given for the accident. State Police Commissioner Shane Patton also confirmed that police did not attend the home where Andrews fell, or interview him.

Kennett said Meuleman and others are entitled to their opinions.

“There are other people in the community, including the victim, who still feel wronged, hurt and hurt,” he said.

“They have a right to raise their issues because the Andrews have a right to disagree.”

Meuleman, then 15, was seriously injured and spent 11 days in hospital after the crash at Blairgowrie on the Mornington Peninsula in January 2013.

No charges were laid at the time. An investigation by the broad-based Independent Anti-Corruption Commission (Ibac) has been ordered after police failed to breathalyzer anyone at the scene of the accident and then refused to release documents requested by the media under freedom of information laws.

Ibac cleared the police of wrongdoing in December 2017.

On Tuesday, Andrews said he stood by his 2013 statement to police.

The Herald Sun story was the first time Meuleman spoke about the crash. He said he had hired a lawyer and was considering his legal options, although he did not explain what type of lawsuit he hoped to bring or against whom.

Nor did the story note that his avenues of action might have expired.

Dr Belinda Barnet, senior lecturer in digital media at Swinburne University, said Sunday’s story about Andrews’ downfall, by contrast, had “nothing newsworthy”.

“The event he is talking about happened over a year ago. What changed in the story was that someone took a picture of some steps,” Barnet said.

‘It seems its sole purpose is to create a public debate that questions whether the event happened the way the prime minister said it did during the election campaign.

Barnet said he put the story on the front page of the newspaper “legitimized conspiracy theories” about the accident.

Denis Muller, a senior fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Center for Advancing Journalism and former deputy editor of The Age, said the Herald Sun’s sustained reporting resembled its 2018 opposition campaign coverage on the law and order and focused on “Africa”. gangs”.

“It backfired dramatically and Andrews won in a landslide. The Victorian population doesn’t buy that stuff as a whole,” Muller said.

He also pointed to the tabloid’s criticism of the state’s Covid-19 lockdowns, particularly by former liberal federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who later lost his Kooyong seat in the federal election in may.

“I think there’s also a kind of helpless fury in all of this – News Corp’s influence is diminishing, [it] cannot make and break governments as before.

Matthew Ricketson, a professor of communications at Deakin University, said the report was a “free kick” for the Prime Minister that could allow him to be more dismissive of reports from the Herald Sun and other media by claiming that the stories were a witch hunt. .

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‘It distracts from legitimate and important public issues which the media should report on for the good of Victorian voters,’ he said, pointing to reporting of a secret Ibac investigation into the awarding of contracts to a union on the eve of the last elections. .

The Herald Sun did not respond to questions from the Guardian.

As for the prime minister, he repeatedly refused to comment on reports of the accident and scoffed at the story on the stairs.

“I really don’t know what the point of the story is,” the prime minister said.

“Can either of you explain this to me?” Will you then interrogate the stairs? People can go as low as they want. I don’t come with them. It’s that simple.”

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