Can Australia survive climate change?
When Emily Townsend resigned from Australian media group News Corp in December, she emailed a statement to her colleagues. And the board of directors. Shortly afterwards, the content of this email landed in many newspapers in the country.
The financial clerk had drafted an indictment against her employer. "It is unreasonable for me to continue to work in a company, knowing that I am helping to spread climate change denial and other lies," she wrote. The reporting in the News Corp media is not only irresponsible, but dangerous and harmful to the population and the wonderful planet.
Townsend had worked for News Corp for five years, and her charge is emblematic of the current battle in Australia. Are the forest fires that have been destroying large parts of the country for weeks a result of man-made climate change? Should Australia reduce its CO₂ emissions to prevent worse things from happening?
Murdoch media heavily influenced the political debate in Australia
Influential actors in the country have so far answered "no" to both questions. This includes the government made up of the Liberal and National Party, which is pursuing a neoliberal, right-wing conservative course and promoting coal mining, which is harmful to the climate. She is supported by News Corp, the country's largest media company controlled by Rupert Murdoch. It owns some of the most popular newspapers: the national one Australian and regional papers like Daily Telegraph,Herald Sun,Courier Mail and Adelaide Advertiser. There are also the TV channels Sky News and Foxtel. "The Murdoch media has long been a major influence on the political debate in Australia," said Caroline Fisher, professor at Canberra University's News and Media Research Center. It is characteristic of these media to view climate change with skepticism, says Fisher. They give room for deniers of the man-made crisis, and commentators regularly downplayed the topic.
When the first students went on strike on Friday in 2018, the Daily Telegraph in Sydney called them "hysterical babies". The paper called on the government to abandon the "flawed" Paris climate agreement, and the report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also called it "hysterical". Already in 2007 it said about Australia: "Heat waves and fires will almost certainly increase in intensity and frequency." After 11,000 researchers last warned of a climate emergency, News Corp business journalist Terry McCrann said: He is skeptical of the term scientist. He thinks you have to add the adjectives "fanatical and hysterical" to understand who these people are. His colleague Andrew Bolt wrote: "The latest great climate fear is just a hoax."
Heavy smoke over Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra? First on page four
Now the country is suffering what is arguably the worst environmental disaster in its history. The fires destroyed an area the size of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. At least 27 people died and more than 2,000 houses were destroyed. Ecologists fear that some animal species will no longer recover.
At the beginning, News Corp papers described the fires as normal natural phenomena. Even when the smoke hung over Sydney, Melbourne or Canberra on New Year's Eve and people and animals were fighting for survival in the hinterland, many newspapers only reported about it on page four. When the inferno could finally no longer be ignored, there was The Australian Arsonists blame it. What the fire brigade immediately denied. The next volte was to hold conservationists and the Green Party responsible for allegedly preventing clearances from being cut in the forest in winter in order to keep the fires under control in summer. The Greens contradicted that they would support such preventive clearing.
Rupert Murdoch: "We shouldn't build wind turbines or rubbish like that"
The direction of the reporting largely follows the attitude of Rupert Murdoch. The 88-year-old was born in Australia and is now a US citizen. He expressed doubts about human-caused global warming several times, and in 2013 he advised Australia to use its mineral resources such as coal to supply the world with cheap energy: "We shouldn't build wind turbines or such garbage."
Alvin Stone used to work for News Corp and is now back to a lot of the Murdoch media as director of public relations at the state-funded Center of Excellence for Climate Extremes in Sydney. He says News Corp established a business model with its course by serving the conservative part of society in forming opinions.
Before the parliamentary elections in 2019, the Murdoch media in chorus with the right-wing conservative parties stirred up fears of job loss and economic decline if Australia seriously wanted to reduce its CO₂ emissions. In the end, Stone believes, this will give the company exclusive access to advertising partners such as the coal, oil and gas industries. But pressure on News Corp is mounting, even within the Murdoch family.
Rupert Murdoch's son frustrated by News Corp coverage
James Murdoch, a son of Rupert Murdoch and a member of the News Corp board of directors, left the US news site on Tuesday Daily Beast from a spokesperson that he and his wife, Kathryn, were frustrated by News Corp and Fox's coverage of climate change. The two are particularly disappointed with the continued denial of the facts surrounding the bushfires in Australia.
Previously, the CEO of News Corp Australia, Michael Miller, had publicly defended the attacks by his ex-employee Emily Townsend and defended the coverage. The company will donate 3.1 million euros for the victims of the fires. The Australian wrote an essay on Saturday on its own behalf and complained that it was wrongly accused of denying climate change. "We are opening up debates that reflect the political divide in Australia on how to address climate change without destroying our economy."
Alvin Stone then observed a change in tone in the News Corp media over the past few days. "You are now reporting almost impartially on climate change." He believes that in the long run it is difficult to write against something that people can feel and see on a daily basis.
In fact, recent polls show that for the majority of Australians, climate change is the biggest problem for the country's future.
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