Climate sceptic Murdoch confronted by son

Near miss: Rupert Murdoch (above) came close to losing his home in California to fires last year.

Should Rupert Murdoch step down? The legendary newspaper owner is under attack by his son for allowing climate change sceptics to distort coverage of the deadly Australian bushfires.

James Murdoch has called out the role his father’s media empire plays in encouraging climate scepticism. A spokesperson for James and his wife Kathryn said that they were “particularly disappointed with the ongoing denial among the news outlets in Australia”.

The younger Murdoch had long been expected to succeed his mogul father Rupert in running News Corp. But his modernising views put him at odds with the older man.

Instead, it is his brother Lachlan who has taken more of an active role overseeing the vast portfolio of newspapers and TV channels, which includes FOX, the Times, the Sun, the Wall Street Journal, the Australian, and more.

This week, the dynastic drama has been rekindled by Rupert and James’ disagreements on the climate crisis.

The Murdochs’ native Australia has been ravaged by bushfires that can be seen from space. Over a quarter of a million people have been advised to evacuate their homes, and nearly half a billion animals have died. Reports have described the situation as “apocalyptic” and a “biological armageddon”.

Despite Australia experiencing such a visceral example of global warming, pundits on Murdoch’s payroll have done their best to push a different narrative.

By omitting the fires from their front pages and by focusing the blame on a small number of arsonists, News Corp is seen as trying to confirm beliefs that that there is no certainty about the man-made climate crisis.

A host on Sky News Australia discussing the fires claimed that “two decades-plus of climate change activism is making them worse”. Meanwhile, a columnist in the Herald Sun asked readers to drop the “incredible arrogance in thinking man now has the power to change the climate”.

In the Australian Daily Telegraph, another wrote that “global forces are using Australia’s fires as propaganda to drum up support for their climate agenda”.

James is calling on his infamously ruthless and stubborn father to adopt a different stand. According to some insiders, a lot of the staff inside News Corp agree with James. With the environmental future of the world at stake, should the 87-year-old Rupert step down?

Heated

No, some argue. Rupert Murdoch is a uniquely successful media tycoon. Disagreeing with him and his papers is one thing, suggesting that he should not be allowed to print certain opinions is quite another. Even if he is out of touch with the majority of scientists and a growing section of the public, he provides news and views that people want – and pay for in their millions.

Yes, he should go, say others. The future of the planet is at stake. We need a global effort to combat the causes and effects of human-caused climate change. By fuelling scepticism across such large audiences, Rupert Murdoch is acting irresponsibly.

You Decide

  1. Is the climate crisis a political question, or is it bigger than that? Are there some issues that simply don’t need to be debated?
  2. Should the people in charge of private media organisations be able to publish whatever views they want?

Activities

  1. Write down a list of the ways you can make sure that the news you read is accurate.
  2. In pairs, find an article written by someone who denies the reality of man-made climate change. See how long it takes you to disprove their arguments by using your own research.

Some People Say...

“Much of what passes for quality on British television is no more than a reflection of the values of the narrow elite which controls it.”

Rupert Murdoch, media owner

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Rupert Murdoch is personally worth over $20 billion (£15.3 bn). Each of his children received over $2 billion (£1.5 bn) from the sale of 20th Century Fox to Disney in 2018. At a News Corp annual meeting in December 2019, Rupert Murdoch insisted “there are no climate change deniers around, I can assure you”. That same month, a heatwave in Australia broke a nationwide record. Some of the fires in Australia were started deliberately, but they are only a small minority of the total number.
What do we not know?
We can never know exactly how much man-made climate change has contributed to a set of specific events like the bushfires in Australia. It is unclear whether Rupert Murdoch’s empire will ever fall apart, or be lead in a different direction.

Word Watch

Scepticism
Uncertainty, doubt; lack of trust.
Mogul
A powerful person, especially in the media.
Portfolio
Set of assets that someone owns.
Dynastic
Involving a group of relatives.
Visceral
Based on deep feeling rather than rational thought.
Pundits
Experts in a particular subject, who are frequently called upon to give their opinions to the public.
Omitting
Leaving out, ignoring.
Arsonists
People who start fires deliberately.
Tycoon
A wealthy, powerful person in business.

Subjects

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