Published in Nikkei Asia, 22 November 2020
Recent landmark moves by Japan, South Korea and China to embrace a pathway to net-zero emissions beg the question as to why other major economies such as Australia — and until now the United States — have been dragging their feet in the fight against climate change. Part of the answer, quite simply, is Rupert Murdoch.
The Murdoch family’s media empire may be virtually non-existent in Asia, but its political influence across the English-speaking West should not be underestimated. Their crown jewels in the American media include the most-watched cable outlet in Fox News, the biggest-selling metropolitan newspaper in the New York Post, and premier business title The Wall Street Journal — properties that Murdoch surrendered his Australian passport to acquire. These outlets collectively feed American voters a steady diet of climate change denial while running a protection racket for politicians who toe this company line.
In my own country, Australia, Murdoch has ruthlessly deployed his monopoly control of daily newspaper circulation to sow doubt about climate science and destroy politicians who take the problem seriously. Even as our nation was besieged by megafires that burned out almost as much land as the United Kingdom, these newspapers heaped doubt on climate change and spouted trumped up claims of mass-arson.
The lies became so transparent that Rupert Murdoch’s own son, James Murdoch, quit the News Corporation board in disgust at these newspapers’ relentless denial and disinformation on climate change.
At its heart, Murdoch’s position is all about accumulating and exercising political power. In 2006, when conservative governments in both the United States and Australia were inching toward accepting the need for climate action, Murdoch smoothed the way by declaring in Tokyo that “the planet deserved the benefit of the doubt.” But years later, when the world was edging closer toward securing a new landmark deal, he did everything in his power to bring down the progressive governments such as my own that had been working toward it. It was the same modus operandi that Murdoch would use against my conservative successor, Malcolm Turnbull, when he also acted in the national interest to advance climate action.
All along, Murdoch’s strategy has been to use his media mastheads and networks to narrowly frame the debate as one simply between outright climate change denialism at one end, and skepticism as to the humankind’s contribution at the other. This means trotting out his most ardent mouthpieces to proclaim among a long and distinguished rap sheet of disinformation such as that “there is no carbon emissions” and “if there were, we could not see because most carbon is black.” This is, as James Murdoch put it, a campaign to “sow doubt, to obscure fact.”
This tactic of trotting out pseudoscience at every opportunity should not be unfamiliar. It is exactly the same tactic that big tobacco used during the 1950s and 1960s to try and dispel the connection between smoking and cancer. Just as it did then, and is now, this kind of reckless commentary costs lives.
This is part of why I have called Murdoch a cancer on Australia’s democracy, and recently launched a national petition calling for an independent inquiry — known as a royal commission — into media diversity in our country.
In just a few short weeks, the petition garnered 501,876 signatures — the most of any online petition the history of the Australian parliament. It was introduced into the national parliament by Andrew Leigh from the Labor Party. There will now be a parliamentary inquiry to examine the matters raised in the petition. This will only be the beginning.
Our petition not only struck a chord with the Australian people, it struck a chord with the international community that has watched in horror at Australia and the United States’ climate inaction over recent years, and drawn a direct link to Murdoch’s not so invisible hand. This includes some of the most conservative voices in the United States, such as former Republican congressman Bob Inglis.
Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that Murdoch himself is likely to now be just as much of an impediment to President-elect Biden implementing his ambitious climate agenda as a Republican-controlled Senate. Just as he will continue to stand in the way of climate action in Australia, no matter who is in power. This is precisely why it is time the rest of us also declare that enough is enough.