SYDNEY, Australia – After years of casting doubt on climate change and attacking politicians for corrective action, Rupert Murdoch’s media in his native Australia are planning an editorial campaign next month advocating a carbon neutral future.
Depending on its content, the plan, described by executives at Mr Murdoch’s News Corp on Monday, could be a breakthrough that will provide political cover for Australia’s conservative government to end its refusal to set ambitious broadcast targets. If she holds up, she could also put pressure on Fox News and other Murdoch-owned media in the US and Britain that have been hostile to climate science.
But critics, including scientists who have been the target of News Corp’s climate fight, have warned that the effort could be little more than a facade that leaves decades of damage intact.
â€œPour me skepticism,â€ said Michael E. Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University. “Until Rupert Murdoch and News Corp cancel their attack dogs at Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, which continue to promote climate change disinformation on a daily basis, these are empty promises that should be seen as a ploy desperate to rehabilitate the public image. of a big climate villain.
As outlined by News Corp executives, the project will include articles and editorials in the company’s influential newspapers, as well as Sky News, its 24-hour news channel. They will explore a path to reach. zero net emissions by 2050 – a goal, set by dozens of countries, that scientific studies show is crucial to avert some of the most disastrous effects of global warming.
Executives at News Corp in Australia have said little publicly about their plans, which were reported earlier by the Sydney Morning Herald. News Corp and a spokesperson for Rupert Murdoch did not respond to email requests for comment.
Sky News chief executive Paul Whittaker appeared in the Australian Senate to answer questions during a public hearing on media disinformation on Monday. He downplayed the reported change in climate change priorities.
â€œI wouldn’t describe it as a campaign,â€ he said. “I would describe it, in Sky News terms, as an exploration of very complex issues.”
Sky tends to be News Corp’s most extreme property. YouTube last month suspended the conservative news channel for a week for violating the platform’s coronavirus disinformation policy. Two years ago, one of its hosts called climate change a “fraudulent and dangerous cult” which was “driven by unscrupulous and sinister interests”.
In many of the company’s newspapers, where strong journalism often rubs shoulders with relentless ideology in articles that often do not bear the label ‘opinion’, the editorial project has been discussed extensively in recent weeks, often with a sense of relief. .
Extreme weather conditions
A senior employee of News Corp newspaper, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to describe internal decision-making, said the editorial effort reflected growing recognition from the company that the world had taken a stronger stance on climate change.
He said the project had been developing for months, with various political and business figures forewarned in advance, a signal that the shift to approving net zero emissions was likely to surprise conservative allies.
Coordinated campaigns are not uncommon for News Corp, which is Australia’s leading commercial news provider, with newspapers in major cities and regional areas. Several outlets are currently pushing for rapid adoption of the Covid-19 vaccination.
In the case of global warming, the campaign will begin just before a new round of international climate talks in Scotland.
The timing has sparked both hope and cynicism among critics of News Corp’s climate coverage.
“If genuine, it could give a vital boost to the momentum needed for the Glasgow summit in November,” said JoÃ«lle Gergis, climatologist at Australian National University.
Richie Merzian, director of the climate and energy program at the Australia Institute, a progressive research organization, said News Corp should call for immediate action to reduce emissions.
â€œReally, they go from an F student to a D student here,â€ he said. â€œThe real risk is that News Corp will move from denying climate change to postponing climate action with no solutions and unaccountable long-term goals. Net zero by 2050 is almost useless if it is not applied, if it has no short-term ambition and if there is no accompanying commitment to stop the opening of new coal mines and new gas fields.
Professor Mann, whose book “The New Climate War” takes a close look at what he calls “inactivists” – polluters, politicians and the media who have opposed climate action – said News Corp had perhaps simply realized this denial in the face of climatic events, in particular the horrific 2019-2020 bushfires in Australia, were no longer tenable.
â€œThey have turned to other tactics – delay, distraction, deflection, division, etc. – in their efforts to maintain the fossil fuel status quo,â€ he said via email. â€œFocusing on a 2050 target, three decades from now, pushes the boundaries so far that it hardly makes sense. This allows cynics to call on promises of new technologies (carbon capture, geoengineering, etc.) decades later as a crutch to continue burning fossil fuels as usual.
Malcolm Turnbull, a former Australian Prime Minister who was often attacked by News Corp and was overthrown in an intra-party dispute in 2018 over climate policy, also warned News Corp had a long track record of just weeks of coverage. could not erase.
News Corp’s new pledge, he said, should only be believed if the company’s journalists and editors stop attacking climate action supporters and stop protecting Tory MPs who have resisted climate policy.
“This right-wing populist climate denial section of the coalition is very influential, and its foundation is the News Corp media,” Turnbull said in an interview. â€œThis is where they live and thrive. If there was a change there, it would be important.
But, he added, “I’m not going to give them credit for something they haven’t done yet.”
Yan Zhuang contributed reporting from Melbourne, Australia.