News Corp turns green?

Rupert Murdoch has had changes of heart on climate change before.

Known for being a stable of environmental vandals and fossil fuel standard bearers, News Corp seems to have made a green turn in the lead-up to the United Nations' Glasgow climate change summit in November.

There has been little harmony within News Corp on how to report climate. Patriarch Rupert Murdoch was unable to keep younger son James and wife Kathryn from venting. “Kathryn and James’ views on climate change are well established and their frustration with some of the News Corp and Fox coverage of the topic is also well known”, a spokesperson for the couple told The Daily Beast early last year as bushfires raged in Australia.

“They are particularly disappointed with the ongoing denial among news outlets in Australia given the obvious evidence to the contrary.”

At the time these comments were made, a board member of News Corp, who wished to remain anonymous and un-scalped, observed that the couple were “pissing inside the tent and that’s unusual. It is evidence of how high tensions within the family are over climate change.”

All the fanfare about family discontent and tent urination ignores the fact that Murdoch senior remains content to stir the pot of demagogy while seeing things rather differently. In a 2007 speech he declared that “climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats”.  While there might be disagreement about “the extent” of that change, “we certainly can’t afford the risk of inaction”. 

In the same speech, Murdoch committed his organisation to the very goal that platoons of his journalists and shock jocks biliously revile. “We can do something that’s unique, different from just any other company.” News Corp could set a sobering example: “Our audience’s carbon footprint is 10,000 bigger than ours. That’s the carbon footprint we want to conquer.”

By 2011, the company had achieved carbon neutrality as part of its Global Energy Initiative, a program designed not only to maximise company efficiency but woo the advertising dollar. 

The initiative’s director, Liba Rubenstein, was unabashed on that score, telling a conference hosted by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change of a “great opportunity in incremental revenue from various companies who want to promote their own green practices on our platforms, and so it’s important for us to be a legitimate platform for that, if they’re going to spend their dollars with us”.

All this from the outfit that gave us such specials as Rowan Dean of Sky News Australia, who in July 2019 called climate change “a fraudulent and dangerous cult, which has paralysed and bewitched the ruling elites, and is driven by unscrupulous and sinister interests including the power-hungry socialist mob at the UN”.

Or, that particular favourite, Andrew Bolt of The Herald Sun, who warns everyone, including children, not to believe the “climate change hoax”.

When asked why his company had provided a pulpit for such opinions at the corporation’s Annual General Meeting in 2019, Murdoch claimed none could be found in his employ. To the questioner came the reply that “there are no climate change deniers around, I can assure you”.

For its part, News Corp Australia has decided from next month to execute what can only be regarded as a ceasefire of sorts against various climate goals, such as zero emissions by 2050 or carbon reduction policies. The editorial board is even considering endorsing the 2050 target.

Sky News chief executive Paul Whittaker resisted calling these moves a campaign, saying, “I would describe it, in terms of Sky News, as an exploration of what are very complex issues”, which has become News Corp-speak for inaction.

In doing so, the move promises to provide an alibi for the conservative Scott Morrison government, internally bruised by a battle between the fossil fuel lobbyists and supporters of firm climate change goals, and harried by such countries as the United States and Britain.

The organisation denies that what is in the offing has anything to do with advertiser concerns or external pressures.

“No doubt other media and social platform users will try to take issue with our coverage to make News the story”, News Corp Australasia’s guarded executive chairperson Michael Miller stated, adding, “however we have never been afraid of pushing boundaries and facilitating tough and uncomfortable conversations”.

The move ahead of the Glasgow climate change summit conforms to the pattern of previous New Corp campaigns. The naïve suggest that the media conglomerate has seen the light.

Richie Merzian, climate and energy program director at the Australia Institute, is not one of them, suggesting that the move amounted to “moving from an F to a D student”.  A genuine prospect in the offing was News Corp moving from a denialist frame of mind to one of prevarication, “delaying climate action with non-solutions and unaccountable long-term targets”.

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who lays his political assassination by his own party members in 2018 squarely at the feet of the News Corp press goons, is far from convinced. “That right-wing populist climate-denying section of the coalition is very influential, and its foundation is the News Corp media”, he told the New York Times.

The calculated change of heart within Murdoch’s non-news machine will do little to editorially rein in the likes of Bolt and his merry denialists, many of whom have promised to keep the cannons firing and the fires burning. As they do, climate change inactivism — code to preserve fossil fuel orthodoxy — promises to bloom.

[Dr Binoy Kampmark lectures at RMIT University in Melbourne. He can be emailed at bkampmark@gmail.com.]