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People Are Blaming The Right Wing Media For Australia’s Political Drama

Malcolm Turnbull said an "insurgency ... backed by powerful voices in the media" brought him down.

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Speaking at a press conference on Friday afternoon, soon-to-be-former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull didn’t hesitate to call out those he thought were to blame for his axing.

“There was a determined insurgency from a number of people both in the party room and backed by powerful voices in the media — really to, if not bring down the government, certainly to bring down my prime ministership,” he said. Turnbull is one of a number of people accusing members of the media of actively involving themselves in politics, working with Liberal MPs to bring about his downfall. The power of the right wing media is emerging as a popular explanation for how a peaceful democracy could see six prime ministers in 11 years.
Saeed Khan / AFP / Getty Images

“There was a determined insurgency from a number of people both in the party room and backed by powerful voices in the media — really to, if not bring down the government, certainly to bring down my prime ministership,” he said.

Turnbull is one of a number of people accusing members of the media of actively involving themselves in politics, working with Liberal MPs to bring about his downfall. The power of the right wing media is emerging as a popular explanation for how a peaceful democracy could see six prime ministers in 11 years.

After three key cabinet ministers abandoned him, Turnbull blamed “bullies” for undermining his leadership.

Turnbull hasn’t taken any questions from News Corp journalists. Likely goes back to the perceived media campaign against him that he referred to just earlier #libspill

“The reality is that a minority in the party room supported by others outside the parliament have sought to bully, intimidate others into making this change of leadership that they're seeking,” Turnbull said in a press conference on Thursday. “It’s been described by many people, including those who feel they cannot resist it, as a form of madness.”

The “others outside the parliament” was reportedly a reference to media figures Ray Hadley and Alan Jones, who both work at 2GB radio, and Peta Credlin, who anchors a show on Sky News and writes a column for News Corp.

At Friday's press conference Turnbull took no questions from News Corp reporters.

On Thursday Turnbull characterised the attempts to oust him as "a very deliberate effort to pull the Liberal Party further to the right".

“What began as a minority has, by a process of intimidation, you know, persuaded people that the only way to stop the insurgency is to give in to it,” Turnbull said.

However, the results of Friday's party room ballots suggest the "insurgency" was only partly successful. Although a majority of MPs voted to spill the leadership, Peter Dutton – the preferred candidate of the Liberal Party's right wing, and Turnbull's challenger on Tuesday – lost the leadership vote.

Ironically, the three ministers who pulled their support on the basis that they thought Turnbull had lost the support of the party room – Mathias Cormann, Michaelia Cash and Mitch Fifeld – would prove decisive in the eventual vote. This afternoon’s spill motion vacating the Liberal leadership was only carried 45-40, and would have failed if the three hadn’t switched their votes. This raises a question about whether opposition to Turnbull had been inflated earlier in the week.

Jones – who this week used the n-word live on air – and Hadley have certainly been critical of Turnbull, and appeared to favour Dutton.

So, the courageous Malcolm may not face reality. The political undertaker has arrived but Malcolm has locked himself up and won’t answer the door. No worries, the undertaker will still be there in the morning. #Auspol

Sky News has a heavily opinion-based line-up in the evenings, including Andrew Bolt, Paul Murray, Ross Cameron and former prime minister Tony Abbott’s chief of staff Credlin, who has dubbed Turnbull "Mr Harbourside Mansion". Earlier this month, Sky News was criticised for inviting a far right nationalist to be interviewed.

Nine News political editor Chris Uhlmann was more explicit yesterday as he pointed the finger at journalists for campaigning against Turnbull and being “players” in politics, in an appearance on Nine’s Today Show.

"News corporations...are waging a war against the Prime Minister of Australia" - @CUhlmann #9Today

Uhlmann named News Corp’s The Australian and The Daily Telegraph newspapers, 2GB – particularly presenters Jones and Hadley – and Sky News’ evening line-up, as those Turnbull’s allies believed were "waging a war against the prime minister of Australia".

Uhlmann said that they were "part of the story" because they were "making phone calls to people, trying to push people over the line". He described them "among the biggest bullies in the land".

He added that Sky's evening programming was "running a campaign" against Turnbull and turning LNP voters into One Nation voters.

Uhlmann received support from other senior journalists, including the ABC’s Leigh Sales and Laura Tingle.

Uhlmann - one of the gutsiest journos around https://t.co/olj78wPhoc

Michelle Grattan called Uhlmann "brave and correct".

But journalists working at the institutions Uhlmann singled out have publicly denied his claims.

.@CUhlmann and @SharriMarkson go head to head on how Australian media impacts politics. #9Today

Political editor at The Daily Telegraph Sharri Markson called it a “disgusting and outrageous attack”. Andrew Bolt called it an “extraordinary” smear.

Hadley and News Corp columnist (and former Sky presenter) Chris Kenny have also criticised Uhlmann.

Others have also blamed the media for this week's events.

A former editor in chief of News Corp’s The Herald Sun speculated that Rupert Murdoch was directly involved in this week’s events, and that it was no coincidence that Turnbull was pushed out within a fortnight of Murdoch’s annual visit to Australia.

Both the Washington Post and Financial Times suggested a dominant right wing media, including Murdoch’s News Corp, contributed to what the Financial Times calls “Italian-style political instability”.

So what now?

Although Malcolm Turnbull has resigned as prime minister, Scott Morrison triumphed over Dutton in the leadership vote.

The early indications are that Morrison may be given a honeymoon period. On his blog Bolt wrote that he was "sceptical" but would "judge Morrison by policy and performance".

Speaking this afternoon on Sky, commentator Paul Murray advised people to take "a deep breath".

"The change has happened, the change has happened," he said.

Hannah Ryan is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

Contact Hannah Ryan at hannah.ryan@buzzfeed.com.

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