As bushfires continue to burn in Australia, James Murdoch – son of media tycoon Rupert Murdoch – has criticised his family’s Newscorp’s outlets for downplaying the impact of climate change on the fires.
James and his wife, Kathryn, issued a joint statement to say that they were "particularly disappointed with the ongoing denial among the news outlets in Australia given obvious evidence to the contrary".
James is a board member at News Corp while his brother, Lachlan, is co-chairman.
News Corp has come under fire for focussing too heavily on arson as a cause of the fires, while columnists have described the link to climate change as "hysterical".
One headline in The Australian reads: "Hysterical efforts to blame the fires on climate change continue, even though we have always faced this threat and always will." Miranda Devine, a high-profile conservative journalist, today wrote a piece for Daily Telegraph with the headline: "We know the cause of these fires – and it’s not the climate".
There have been lots (understatement alert) examples of climate science denial at The Australian over the years. I have written about lots of them. A thread.— Graham Readfearn (@readfearn) January 11, 2020
Media academic and journalist Meg Simons told The Guardian that the purpose of such groups like News Corp was to "stifle public debate".
"Such behaviour amplifies certain voices in our society at the cost of others. This is possible because of our highly concentrated media ownership. If we had more diversity of media ownership, there would be less reason to worry when one set of outlets goes rogue or off on some campaign of its own invention," she says.
News Corp controls 70 per cent of the country’s media circulation, publishing more than 140 newspapers and employing 3,000 journalists in print, broadcast, and online.
Last week, Emily Townsend, commercial finance manager at News Corp, sent out a company-wide email expressing her disappointment about her company’s coverage of the fires.
"I have been severely impacted by the coverage of News Corp publications in relation to the fires, in particular the misinformation campaign that has tried to divert attention away from the real issue – which is climate change – to rather focus on arson (including misrepresenting facts)," she said in her email.
"I find it unconscionable to continue working for this company, knowing I am contributing to the spread of climate change denial and lies. The reporting I have witnessed in The Australian, the Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun is not only irresponsible, but dangerous and damaging to our communities and beautiful planet that needs us more than ever now to acknowledge the destruction we have caused and start doing something about it."
When the story broke, a flurry of support for Townsend surfaced on social media.
Click here to subscribe to the FREE Asia PR & comms bulletin to receive dedicated news, features and comment from the region straight to your inbox. Make sure you register for the site to access more than one story per month.
To submit a news, comment, case study or analysis idea for the Asia bulletin, email Surekha.Ragavan@haymarket.asia