Rupert Murdoch on an orange background with The Australian masthead
Ceci Freed / Media Matters

Murdoch's flagship Australian newspaper pushes climate denial as devastating bushfires rage

A timeline of how The Australian has undercut hard coverage with denialist op-eds

Bushfires in Australia, ongoing since September, have killed at least 28 people to date and burned an estimated 15.6 million acres of bush, forest, and parks across the country. Experts say the fires are likely to continue for months, and it is estimated that as many as 1 billion animals may perish through the season. The link between climate change and the historic severity of the crisis is “scientifically undisputable.” Among other factors, the country’s warmer climate causes droughts that produce natural fuel for fires, making bushfires “larger and more frequent.”

Rupert Murdoch’s homeland media empire has been subjected to increasing criticism (including from his own son) for pushing climate denialism, downplaying the severity of the crisis, and hyping exaggerated stories about the role of arson in the fires.

A Media Matters conducted a noncomprehensive review of digital front page of News Corp.’s flagship national paper, The Australian, using the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. Not every date was archived, but snapshots of those that were available reveal the tone of the coverage overall. While the paper’s website, which has a monthly reach of 2 million readers, did sometimes provide live updates on the fires, it has also undercut that important coverage with multiple op-eds denying science that demonstrates the bushfires have been accelerated by climate change.

The Australian ran several different climate-denying opinion pieces on the cover. One castigated “climate alarmists” and concluded that “bushfires have been around forever so it is ridiculous to claim they are a consequence of global warming.” Another op-ed declared that “fires aren’t the end of the world,” defended the Murdoch media, and described those concerned about climate change as suffering from “apocalyptic thinking without a real apocalypse.” The Australian also ran two separate op-eds from climate deniers Chris Kenny and Peter Ridd. Amidst their climate denialist opinion pieces, the newspaper has also been attacking the publicly funded Australian Broadcast Corporate, which has been working overtime to provide life-saving coverage of the crisis.

  • September 9

    CNN reported on wildfires raging across Queensland and New South Wales. The article quoted Queensland Fire and Emergency Services official Andrew Sturgess, who called the fires “an historic event” and “an omen if you will, a warning of the fire season we are likely to see ahead in the southeastern parts of the state, the driest parts of the state, where most of our population lives.” Sturgess also cited tens of houses lost and 15 school closures across Queensland and New South Wales due to the fires.

    The Australian’s homepage featured coverage of:

    September 9 The Australian digital homepage

  • November 11

    Premier of New South Wales Gladys Berejiklian declared a state of emergency because of the brushfires. The state, which has a population of nearly 8 million and includes the greater Sydney area, encouraged residents to evacuate their homes early in anticipation of the devastation.

    The Australian’s homepage featured coverage of: 

    • The state of emergency declaration in New South Wales
    • A rant by Deputy Prime Minister David McCormack which labeled those accurately connecting climate change to the severity of the bushfires as “raving inner-city lunatics” who are “disgusting” and “disgraceful”
    • An op-ed that attacked “lazy left journos” and claiming “activists, especially about climate action, … increasingly reject liberal democracy” because of the global rise of right-wing populism
    • A morning TV show host who stormed off the set live on-air

    November 11

  • November 13

    The Associated Press reported that more than 200 homes burned in New South Wales and Queensland in less than a week, forcing mass evacuations amid an ongoing severe fire threat.

    The Australian’s homepage featured coverage of:

    • Live coverage of the bushfire, with a lengthy update on arson featured in the headline on the landing page
    • An op-ed titled “Bossy ‘feminists’ are the new patriarchy”
    • Live coverage of Cardinal George Pell’s appeal before the Australian High Court after being convicted of child sexual abuse

    November 13

  • November 16

    Bloomberg reported conditions on the Australian coasts are likely to worsen. Western Australia experienced its hottest day in November since records began in 1897, and the east coast anticipated another severe heatwave. Firefighters were working to contain and put out more than 100 fires, and 300 homes had been destroyed.

    The Australian’s homepage featured coverage of:

    • An exclusive report on volunteer firefighters in Queensland being unable to serve their community due to a local political dispute
    • An op-ed that denied the link between climate change and the devastating bushfires from associate editor and Sky News Australia host Chris Kenny, who called those highlighting the connection “alarmists” and “brazen opportunists” who “take lunacy to new levels”
    • Rich people choosing to live in the “elite suburbs” of Melbourne
    • Britain’s Prince Andrew’s disastrous BBC interview about his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein
    • Design flaws in a Queensland dam that have resulted in pricey bills for repairs

    November 16

  • November 22

    NPR reported that approximately 600 homes were destroyed in New South Wales, where about 60 fires were still burning, and “an area roughly eight times the size of Los Angeles” had been destroyed in the blazes thus far.

    The Australian homepage featured coverage of:

    • An exclusive report on legal challenges faced by a climate activist elected to Australian parliament
    • An op-ed about celebrities who yelled at flight attendants
    • Cricket fans refusing to surrender an “illegal beer snake” constructed during a game
    • Drama in a neighborhood Facebook group that escalated into a defamation lawsuit

    november 22

  • December 8

    The Sydney Morning Herald reported that American firefighters were deployed to Sydney for the first time in history to help combat the wildfires. One California firefighter said, “We don’t call it fire season any more, it’s fire year. The way the conditions are now we kind of get fires year round. You’re just never out of the woods anymore.”

    The Australian homepage featured coverage of:

    • Ash from bushfires speeding up the retreat of New Zealand glaciers “as one climate disaster accelerates another”
    • Labor Party leader Terri Butler urging her party not to rely on messaging about transitioning workers out of the coal sector to define their climate policy
    • Tiger Woods’ unexpected comeback in the world of golf
    • An op-ed about declining curriculum standards in Australian schools
    • An op-ed claiming that in the U.S., Democrats are failing to make the case for impeachment and American voters don’t support the effort

    December 8

  • December 21

    The Sydney Morning Herald reported that authorities in East Gippsland, Victoria, informed residents that it was too late to evacuate their homes and to shelter in place. An emergency warning informed locals, “You are in danger and need to act immediately to survive.”

    The Australian homepage featured coverage of:

    • Two articles on the bushfires in New South Wales
    • An op-ed in which Kenny complained that he’s been criticized by the “green left” for his views on climate denial and other issues
    • A warning from the Clean Energy Council about declining investment in solar and wind energy
    • An op-ed that compared the Democrats’ approach to impeachment to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor

    December 21

  • December 28

    The Guardian reported on a warning from Victorian authorities instructing residents to immediately evacuate “an area half the size of Belgium” amid extreme heat and winds as massive fires burned. The evacuation was announced as a festival attended by thousands of people was canceled due to fire threats.

    The Australian homepage featured coverage of:

    • An op-ed on the need for “collective changes on an unprecedented scale” to address the climate crisis, one of the rare opinion pieces recognizing the urgency of the situation in the paper
    • A report on a bushfire survivors advocacy group titled “GetUp stirs activists’ climate claims”
    • An op-ed titled “Why do women feel horrible about feminism?”

    December 28

  • December 30

    Bloomberg reported on the devastation in towns along the southeastern coast, stranding thousands of tourists and locals on beaches in the area. Two people were killed in the town of Corbago, New South Wales.

    The Australian homepage featured coverage of:

    • Live updates on fire evacuations in Victoria
    • An op-ed that attacked the climate activist group Extinction Rebellion and claiming “bushfires have been around forever” and “they are far more likely to be due to an 11-year-old boy playing with matches than global warming”
    • A story about internal criticism of sports coverage at the Australian Broadcasting Company

    December 30

  • January 2

    The premier of New South Wales declared a state of emergency. Thousands evacuated the southern coast.

    The Australian homepage featured coverage of:

    January 2

  • January 5

    CNN reported a senior firefighter in southeast Australia called the previous 24 hours “one of our worst days ever.” An estimated 146 fires burned in New South Wales and the national death toll had risen to 24 people.

    The Australian homepage featured coverage of:

    • Live updates on the bushfires
    • An op-ed titled “Bushfires aren’t the end of the world” that said “there is nothing that an Australian government can do about climate change” and “there is no reason to project the present tragedy on to a critique of the nation and its leaders”
    • An article on vegan meat

    january 5

  • January 10

    The Guardian reported on massive climate protests across the country as winds were “expected to create hazardous firefighting conditions.” The report also highlighted the fact that “more than a third of Kangaroo Island” had been burned in the south, “killing two people and injuring 22 fire personnel.”

    The Australian homepage featured coverage of:

    • An op-ed that defended Morrison from negative media coverage of his handling of the bushfires, which the article sarcastically decried as “the natural hazards presented by nature in our land,” before going on to cite motor vehicle accident statistics to mock concern over lives taken by the bushfires
    • Meghan Markle’s move to Canada
    • A video of an Iranian missile shooting down a Ukrainian airliner

    January 10