How we consume news is undergoing a huge transformation, as print media is declining in favour for the myriad of voices competing for our attention on the internet. Yet one figure that has loomed over media in the global North for decades is Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch owns a media empire that includes news outlets such as The Sun, The Times (the UK), The Wall Street Journal, Fox News (the U.S.) and The Daily Telegraph, The Australian and the Herald Sun in his native Australia.
His enterprises have been involved in many controversies over the years, including The News of the World phone hacking scandal that made Piers Morgan infamous.
Murdoch’s owned NewsCorp is currently being subjected to an investigation by the Australian government. Last year, Kevin Rudd, former PM of Australia, called for a probe into Murdoch’s media empire, stating it conducted character assassinations and blended opinion pieces with reporting, to obscure facts. This petition garnered over 500,000 signatures. You can watch the video of Rudd calling for an enquiry, describing Murdoch’s empire as an ‘arrogant cancer on our democracy’ below:
The ‘Media Diversity Inquiry’ was commissioned last year, and will report on its findings this August. It has been backed by another former Australian PM, Malcolm Turnbull, who has argued that these media companies cultivate fringe politics and thrive in doing so. The Executive Chairman of NewsCorp told the media diversity enquiry that print media is declining and so the issue is overstated. Yet this is untrue, as Murdoch maintains his holdings in print media companies despite their diminishing profits, in order to maintain political power. Turnbull pointed out that these media outlets operate like a political party and use their influence to divide people and undermine institutions, yet have no accountability. An example of this media monopoly being used to undermine democracy and spread disinformation is reporting on the climate crisis in the Australian context.
Anti Climate Change Ideology
In January 2020, bush fires raged across Australia, mainly in the South East of the country. The fires claimed the lives of citizens and animals whilst destroying wildlife – burning 12 million hectares of land. This extreme ecological tragedy was an example of the increasingly common natural disasters and weather shifts we have seen in recent years due to global warming. Although this was untrue, according to Murdoch’s press.
NewsCorp reported that the fires were caused by arsonists (a message that was echoed by the governing liberal-national coalition at the time). At the time, The Australian stated that this year’s fires were ‘no worse’ than those in the past, despite scientists proving that the fires starting in 2019 alone burned more of New South Wales than the previous 15 years combined. This shows NewsCorp’s blatant disregard for scientific fact in order to perpetrate an anti climate change narrative.
Independent organisation GetUp recently published a report on media diversity in Australia (you can read it in full here). They said that Murdoch’s media empire skewed public debate, and favoured the interests of the wealthy and powerful. The scale of NewsCorp media misinformation has been found to hinder climate change policymaking in Australia, which the study states ‘would not have been possible in a more diverse media landscape’.
Despite these claims, Rupert Murdoch is still adamant that there are no climate change deniers working within the organisation, although his son James Murdoch has resigned from the board of NewsCorp over the issue.
Politicians, fossil fuel companies and men were most sources in articles about climate change. Only 6% of all sources across four News Corp publications were scientists of any kind.
Coverage of existing or potential policies to combat climate change was overwhelmingly negative. Items discussing climate action policies were more than twice as likely to be negative compared to other NewsCorp articles.
45% of all News Corp climate coverage expressed scepticism in the reality of climate change. 65% of opinion pieces were sceptical towards climate science.
based on analysis of 8,612 pieces of news from The Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun, Courier Mail, and The Australian, April 2019 and March 2020
Why does media diversity matter?
Identity politics and the rise of social media means that those on both the right and left of politics will skew towards media they feel ideologically comfortable with. However, media should reflect the full diversity of society – which is why the monopoly of Murdoch’s empire is an issue.
The explosion of choice in our media has led to disinformation or ‘fake news’ which can erode trust in media institutions as a whole. Malcolm Turnbull clashed with Paul Kelly from The Australian about this, as Kelly stated that reporting on climate change was allowed, so why not anti-climate change?
Turnbull’s response is the crux here: he responded that Murdoch’s media empire was turning the fact of climate change into an ideological standpoint – to be believed or disbelieved. You can watch the full video below:
Climate change is an undeniable fact, yet these media outlets report on it as if it something that can be questioned or disputed. In doing this, they spread a polarising narrative that makes it harder for politicians to act on climate change policy, for fear of alienating a ‘climate sceptic’ voter base. Media monopolies such as these must be dismantled for change to occur at the policy making level.
In the Sunshine Coast, an area of Australia that will be greatly affected by climate change, NewsCorp recently purchased the one local newspaper – The Sunshine Coast Daily, and can now provide one side of a story without opposition. Of course, as Murdoch’s media executives will argue, people from The Sunshine Coast could consume media in other ways. But if the only print media you saw (and the only print media you could buy) only had one narrative – wouldn’t it end up permeating your thought on some level?
These monopolies must be torn down, if not for the sake of democracy, then for the sake of the planet.