SYDNEY, Australia – After years of climate change doubts and attacks on politicians advocating corrective action, Rupert Murdoch’s media in his native Australia are planning an editorial campaign for a climate neutral future next month.
Depending on the content, the project outlined Monday by executives at Mr. Murdoch’s News Corp could be a breakthrough that provides political cover for the Conservative Australian government to end its refusal to set ambitious emissions targets. If it continues, it could also put pressure on Fox News and other Murdoch-owned media outlets in the United States and Britain that are hostile to climate science.
But critics, including scientists who were a target of News Corp’s climate change battle, warned the effort could be little more than window dressing that leaves decades of damage intact.
“Color me skeptical,” said Michael E. Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University. “Until Rupert Murdoch and News Corp remove their attack dogs from Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, which continue to spread disinformation about climate change on a daily basis, these are empty promises that should be viewed as a desperate ploy to rehabilitate the public image.” leading climate villains. “
As broadly outlined by News Corp executives, the project will include features and editorials in the company’s influential newspapers as well as Sky News, its 24-hour news channel. You’ll explore a way to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 – a goal set by dozen of countries that scientific studies show is critical to averting some of the most catastrophic effects of global warming.
News Corp executives in Australia have spoken little publicly of their plans, previously reported by the Sydney Morning Herald. News Corp and a spokesman for Rupert Murdoch did not respond to email requests for comments.
Sky News chairman Paul Whittaker appeared in the Australian Senate on Monday to answer questions about misinformation in the media at a public hearing. He downplayed the reported shift in priorities on climate change.
“I wouldn’t call it a campaign,” he said. “I would describe it as an exploration of very complex subjects in relation to Sky News.”
Sky is typically News Corp’s most extreme object. Last month, YouTube banned the conservative news channel for a week for violating the platform’s coronavirus misinformation policy. Two years ago, one of his hosts described climate change as a “fraudulent and dangerous cult” that was “driven by unscrupulous and sinister interests”.
In many of the company’s newspapers, which often feature solid journalism alongside relentless ideology in articles that often do not have an “opinion” label, the editorial project has been widely discussed in recent weeks, often with a sense of relief.
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A News Corp senior newspaper official, who requested anonymity for not being allowed to describe internal decisions, said the editorial efforts reflect a growing recognition by the company that the world has taken a stronger stance on climate change.
He said the project had been developing for months, with various political and economic figures announced in advance, a signal that moving to endorsing net-zero emissions would risk surprising Conservative allies.
Coordinated campaigns are not uncommon at News Corp, the dominant commercial news provider in Australia, with newspapers in major cities and regional areas. Several outlets are currently pushing for a quick introduction of the Covid-19 vaccination.
In the case of global warming, the campaign will begin shortly before a new round of international climate talks in Scotland.
The timing sparked both hope and cynicism among critics of News Corp’s climate reporting.
“If this is really the case, it could be a big boost to the momentum needed for the Glasgow Summit in November,” said Joëlle Gergis, a climate scientist at the Australian National University.
Richie Merzian, the 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.
“Really, you are moving from an F to a D student here,” he said. “The real risk is that News Corp will move from denying climate change to delaying climate action with no solutions and incomprehensible long-term goals. Net zero by 2050 is almost useless if not enforced, if it has no short-term ambitions, and if there is no accompanying commitment to stop developing new coal mines and new gas fields. “
Professor Mann, whose book “The New Climate War” deals with exactly what he calls “inactivists” – the polluters, politicians and the media who spoke out against climate change – said News Corp may, in the face of increasingly harsh denial simply realized that denial climate events, particularly the horrific 2019-20 bushfires in Australia, were no longer tenable.
“They have turned to other tactics – delay, distraction, diversion, division, etc. – in an effort to maintain the fossil fuel status quo,” he said via email. “Focusing on the 2050 target three decades away brings the can so far into the future that it is largely meaningless. It allows the cynics to look back on promises of new technologies (carbon capture, geoengineering, etc.) decades later.
Malcolm Turnbull, a former Australian Prime Minister who has been often attacked by News Corp and who was overthrown in 2018 in an intra-party dispute over climate change, also warned that News Corp had a long track record that weeks of coverage could not erase.
News Corp’s newfound commitment should only be believed if the company’s journalists and editors stop beating up climate advocates and protecting the Conservative MPs who have opposed climate policy.
“This right-wing populist, climate-denying part of the coalition is very influential, and its foundation is the News Corp media,” Turnbull said in an interview. “They live and thrive there. If there is a change there, that would be significant. “
But he added, “I won’t give you credit for anything you haven’t done yet.”
Yan Zhuang contributed the coverage from Melbourne, Australia.