Thousands back inquiry into Rupert Murdoch's Australian media 'monopoly'
CEO and founder of News Corporation Rupert Murdoch is pictured on Nov. 19, 2013. [AFP]

More than 180,000 people have signed a petition launched by former prime minister Kevin Rudd calling for an inquiry into Rupert Murdoch's dominance over Australian news media.

The petition caused glitches on the Australian parliament website Monday as it experienced a 500 percent spike in traffic.

It urges the conservative government to establish a Royal Commission -- the top level of inquiry in Australia -- to "ensure a strong, diverse" media.

The Australian arm of Murdoch's New York-headquartered News Corp is the country's largest news organization, with papers in nearly every major city as well as cable television networks and magazines.

Announcing the petition's launch Sunday, Rudd decried the group as a "cancer on our democracy" that operated an effective "monopoly" over Australia's press.

"This power is routinely used to attack opponents in business and politics by blending editorial opinion with news reporting," the petition states.

"These facts chill free speech and undermine public debate."

Rudd, who was prime minister from 2007-2010 and briefly in 2013, has long been critical of what he says is the media organization's "vicious" campaigning for his political opponents, the conservative Liberal-National coalition.

"There's no such thing as a level playing field anymore," he said in a video posted to Twitter.

A former Liberal leader, John Hewson, on Tuesday also threw his weight behind an investigation into the influence of News Corp and the Australian-born Murdoch.

"They're massive apologists for the Australian government. They keep excusing Trump. It's bizarre," he told The New Daily, while adding that News Corp was not alone and a broader probe into media ownership was required.

News Corp has yet to issue a public response, despite being contacted for comment.

The group owns some of Australia's best-known newspapers, including national broadsheet The Australian, Sydney's Daily Telegraph and Melbourne's Herald Sun.

The company has previously defended its titles, which despite controversies are among the best sellers in Australia and regularly win awards for their journalism.

And while public support for the petition appears to be growing, the government -- which generally enjoys strong support from the Murdoch press -- is under no obligation to take up the cause and is considered unlikely to do so.

The petition is set to be submitted to parliament for consideration on November 5.