News Limited owns 70 per cent of the circulation of major newspapers in Australia. If Rupert Murdoch, the chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, were an apolitical or a distant figure, this might not matter, but he has a powerful set of ideological beliefs and is determined to maintain tight control over all his papers on issues that interest him.
Politically engaged citizens have a plethora of accessible sources of information on the internet but News Ltd's capacity to influence the opinions of the vast majority of less engaged citizens - whose political understanding is shaped directly by popular newspapers and indirectly through commercial radio and television programs that rely on them for content and, more deeply, for the way they interpret the world - is unjustifiable.
The company's domination poses a real and present danger to the health of Australian democracy.
Take, for example, the reported discussion by News Ltd editors and key journalists earlier this year about the need to do something about the minority Gillard government and its alliance with the Greens.
Following that meeting, Murdoch tabloids began to campaign in earnest against the government and in particular its carbon tax.
This power to distort political debate must be challenged and the weakening of Murdoch's grip on his global empire presents a unique opportunity to do so.
The question, of course, is whether the government is willing to take an extraordinary and perhaps unacceptable risk to regulate media ownership.
The second problem Murdoch poses for this country is embodied in The Australian.
Under Chris Mitchell's editorship, the paper has played the role not so much of reporter or interpreter but of national enforcer of those values that lie at the heart of the Murdoch empire: market fundamentalism and the beneficence of American global hegemony.
Unquestioning support for American foreign policy led the paper to conduct an extraordinarily strident campaign in favour of an invasion of Iraq - launched on the basis of false intelligence - which was responsible for perhaps 400,000 deaths, and for which it has never uttered an apology.
The Australian has conducted a prolonged and intellectually incoherent campaign against action on climate change and undermined the hold in public life of the central values of the Enlightenment: science and reason. This has helped make action by any Australian government on the most serious question of contemporary times far more difficult than it ought to have been.
The paper has led a series of high-volume and unbalanced campaigns against Labor governments, in which its reporters, rather than investigating a problem with an open mind, often sought out evidence in support of a pre-determined conclusion.
It has sought systematically to undermine the credibility of its only broadsheet rivals - the Herald and The Age - and, in a relentless campaign, to intimidate and drive towards the right the only other mainstream source of analysis and opinion in this country, the ABC.
It has conducted a kind of jihad against the Greens, a party supported by 1.5 million. By its own admission it has devoted itself to the task of trying to have that party destroyed at the ballot box, a statement which in itself undermines any claim to balance.
The Australian has turned itself into a player in national politics without there being any means by which its actions can be held to account.
Even though its core value is the magic of the market, it is doubtful The Australian could survive without hidden financial subsidy from the global empire of its founding father, Rupert Murdoch, for whom it offers the most important means for influencing politics and commerce in the country of his birth.
There seems only one possible solution to the threat to democracy posed by The Australian: courageous external and internal criticism.
The strange passivity of its two mainstream rivals, Fairfax Media and the ABC - even in the face of a constant barrage of criticism and lampooning - has left victims of the paper's attacks vulnerable and friendless. There is an old joke that suggests no individual ought to engage in battle with those who buy their ink by the barrel. But Fairfax and the ABC have the same arsenal at their disposal.
In the course of my research I have become aware of much unease among journalists at The Australian about the political extremism and frequent irrationalism of the paper for which they work. The paper employs many of the best journalists in the country. It only requires a different editor-in-chief and owner for it to become a truly outstanding newspaper.
This is an edited extract from Robert Manne's Quarterly Essay ''Murdoch's Australian and the Shaping of the Nation'', published by Black Inc and out Monday. Also available as an ebook.