The faux Damascene converts have been doing the rounds in the Murdoch empire of late, stirring interest in matters green and attempting to shift, if ever so slightly, discussions on climate change. Known for being a stable of environmental vandals and fossil fuel standard bearers, News Corp has gone for a green turn of sorts.
Within the media imperium, harmony on the issue of how to report climate has not been one of accord. The patriarch, Rupert Murdoch, was unable to keep younger son James and wife Kathryn from venting on the issue. “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 in early 2020 as bushfires in Australia raged. “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’s evidence of how high tensions within the family are over climate change.”
All fanfare about family discontent and tent urination would ignore the fact that Rupert remains a person content to stir the pot of demagogy while seeing things rather differently from his own perch. 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 that same speech, he committed his organisation to the very goal 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 not only designed to maximise company efficiency but to 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 called climate change in July 2019 “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 has warned everyone, including children, not to believe the “climate change hoax”.
When asked about 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”.
News Corp Australia, for its part, 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 as constituting a campaign. “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, this move promises to provide an alibi for a conservative Morrison government internally bruised by a battle between the fossil fuel lobbyists and supporters of firm climate change goals and harried by such countries such as the United States and United Kingdom.
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 chairman Michael Miller stated, “however we have never been afraid of pushing boundaries and facilitating tough and uncomfortable conversations.”
The move, timed to coincide ahead of the Glasgow climate change summit in November, conforms to the usual pattern of previous New Corp campaigns. The more naïve sorts suggest that the news body has seen the light. Richie Merzian, climate and energy program director at the Australia Institute, is not one of them, bluntly suggesting that this 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 Australian 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 also 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 found it hard to give the organisation “credit for something they haven’t done yet.”
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.