The homeland of conservative media mogul and News Corp. Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch is burning. Bushfires raging across the Australian continent have cost at least 24 people their lives, burned hundreds of homes, and destroyed an entire town since they began in September, and experts say the fires are likely to continue for months. Despite this unending devastation and scientific consensus that global warming has accelerated the crisis, News Corp.’s print and television media assets in Australia continue to spread climate denial, attack other outlets providing lifesaving coverage, and ignore local fire threats.
Bushfires occur in Australia every year, but this season, which began in September 2019, is significantly worse than in years past. Concentrated mostly along the coasts of the country, the fires have destroyed 15.6 million acres and threatened populous urban areas. The southeastern state of New South Wales has been hit particularly hard, with over 130 fires burning over 12 million acres of land -- more than four times the area burned in the Amazon this past summer. Mass evacuations in Australia to escape the fires have been described as “among the largest emergency movements of people in the country’s history.” Scientists say that record temperatures and a drier climate driven by our warming climate accelerate the severity of the bushfires.
But conservative News Corp.-owned outlets have refused to acknowledge this reality.
A recent segment from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation rounded up examples of the climate denial pushed by conservative pundits in the Australian media, most of whom work for outlets owned by News Corp. For example, Peter Gleeson, a commentator at Sky News Australia and a columnist at The Courier-Mail, attacked a former fire chief who connected the fires to climate change as having “joined a cult” and “been brainwashed.” Sky News Australia host Peta Credlin not only denied the role of climate change in the fires, but also claimed that “there is no doubt ... that two decades-plus of climate change activism is making them worse.” Sky News Australia host Chris Kenny called the debate about the role of climate change in the fires “dumb,” “reckless,” and “offensive.” The Herald-Sun’s Terry McCrann attacked the media outside of Murdoch’s grasp for their coverage of the bushfires and denied their connection to climate change. In a November 6 monologue, Sky’s Andrew Bolt, a habitual climate denier who once attacked 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg as “deeply disturbed” and “strange,” called the “big global warming scare” a “con.”
Murdoch’s The Australian, the most widely circulated national paper in the country, has been on the attack against a competitor as the politics of climate coverage has become more contentious because of the fires. A recent report from The Guardian highlighted multiple op-eds in The Australian that have attacked the Australian Broadcasting Corporation as its television and radio outlets work overtime to produce lifesaving emergency broadcasts on local fire threats and updates on road closures, power lines, and food availability. Meanwhile, The Australian ignored the fires to cover New Year’s Day “picnic races” on the January 1 front page, even as papers elsewhere around the world covered Australia’s emergency as their top story.
It’s worth noting that Murdoch’s climate denial in Australia is deeply connected to conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has also refused to acknowledge the connection between climate change and bushfires. Morrison’s leadership failures during this crisis have been compared to U.S. President George W. Bush’s disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Predictably, Murdoch has been behind him the entire way. Editorial coverage by his Australian media assets overwhelmingly backed Morrison ahead of the May 2019 election, and Murdoch’s outlets celebrated Morrison’s victory after he won in a shocking upset. The prime minister is also buddies with Lachlan Murdoch, CEO of the Fox Corp. and son of Rupert, who himself is rumored to be a fierce climate denier. (Morrison came under heavy criticism after he ditched his urgent responsibilities dealing with the bushfires to attend Lachlan’s Christmas party in Sydney.)
A man who has been described as being “obsessed with what his newspapers say,” Rupert Murdoch lied to investors in November when he said “there are no climate change deniers” among the ranks at News Corp. Now, the Murdochs’ contribution to spreading climate denial through conservative media is having dire consequences not just in Australia, where the family has exercised outsized influence on politics for decades, but around the world.