(This is an edited version of my speech at the Murdoch News Corp Lie-In.)
This evening, we're lying-in to protest against the lies of one of the world’s most powerful companies, News Corp.
Firstly, I would like to acknowledge that we’re on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation and that this land was never ceded. In acknowledging the Eora nation, it’s worth remembering the attacks on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders by News Corp’s most aggressive blogger Andrew Bolt. His latest target has been author Bruce Pascoe but before that, it was Professor Larissa Barendt and others.
As we protest here tonight, terrible bushfires are burning around the nation’s capital Canberra. For weeks, millions of us, while not in the direct line of fire, have suffered from appalling air quality. Like many billions in other parts of the globe, we’re in the midst of a climate emergency.
But this is no surprise. Scientists have been warning about these dangers since the 1960s - in fact, half a century ago, when I was a student editor at the University of NSW, we published an article warning of global warming. More than 30 years ago, before some of you were born, Australian scientists established a link between climate change and an increased risk of bushfires. How do we know that? We know it because journalists reported this news in the SMH at the time. Just one small example of why journalism matters in a democracy. (For more on this topic read my *EXTRA!EXTRA! story here*
And yet, as we experience the lived reality of climate change in which many have lost or have been driven from their homes and 33 humans and a billion members of other species have had their lives snatched away, our biggest most powerful media company News Corp continues to spread doubt and denial about the findings of climate scientists across our community. This too is nothing new - it has been doing this for decades.
As I said, journalism is crucial to democracy but it’s also very dangerous if it morphs into false propaganda in the guise of journalism.
We have often been warned of the political risks that come with having the most concentrated mainstream media in the Western World. This power was delivered to Rupert Murdoch and his family by Labor and Liberal governments who have never been prepared to curtail media power.
The result of these years of failure to tackle Murdoch’s media power is that Australia not only has the most concentrated mainstream media in the Western world, we also have the most sceptic. What many Australians don’t realise is that in many countries, scepticism is not even a ‘thing’.
In 2013, the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism published a study of Australia's 10 major media metropolitan corporate outlets. We found that Australia’s concentrated newspaper ownership has a significant effect on how climate science is covered. One third of articles in Australia’s major metropolitan print outlets did not accept the consensus position of climate science: that human beings are contributing to climate change. Some journalists deliberately sow seeds of doubt including by distorting the views of climate scientists, other contributors outright deride climate scientists e the and mock their findings. When you took out the then Fairfax owned SMH and The Age, the levels of scepticism and denial were even higher.
The most sceptical outlets by a long way were News Corp’s big tabloid outlets, the Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun. More than 60 % of the articles in these publications did not accept the consensus position. The Australian was noticeable for its practices of promoting doubt and confusion rather than outright denial. ( Page 7 in Sceptical Climate.)
That’s an extraordinarily high level of scepticism when you consider that these stories fly in the face of findings of almost all - over 97% - of peer reviewed scientific articles. That figure relies on research now more than a decade old - since then climate scientists have only strengthened their warnings of the risks to us all. (Naomi Oreskes landmark study was published in 2004. She went on to publish Merchant of Doubt.
News Corp likes to say it is having a debate about climate change - but that is nonsense. In what other area of science, let alone one with some enormous implications, would a media company continually send its audiences persuasive messages that they should reject and mock scientists. Even if right now, News Corp was to change its tune and report climate science and climate change policy ‘accurately and fairly’ (which there are no signs of them doing), they would still have done incalculable damage to political discourse in Australia.
There’s no time this evening for too much detail but let me just give one other examples, Across three month samples in 2011 and 2012, 97 % of comment pieces published by News Corp’s major Victorian outlet the Herald Sun did NOT accept scientific consensus that human beings have contributed to fossil fuel driven climate change - that is some figure when you think that more 97% of peer reviewed papers accepted the climate consensus.
Of course, lots of these opinion pieces were written by Andrew Bolt who for decades has denigrated climate scientists and climate policy advocates and encouraged his followers to feel hostility towards them. Disturbingly, when you do database searches Bolt has published more articles and words relating to climate science and climate change than any other media writer or journalist in Australia.
In my view, Andrew Bolt can write what he likes, just like his followers and we can refute him. But what we most strongly object to is the concentration of power that has allowed News Corp to pay him and other similar columnists to spread propaganda across Australia. In other words, Murdoch and his editors have produced and are responsible for Bolt, who is just one of a stable of columnists who spread doubt about or simply reject the findings of the world's climate scientists.
But you would be mistaken if you imagined that the issue of Bolt and other News Corp attack dogs is confined to Sydney and Melbourne. Murdoch owns the only daily metropolitan outlets in Brisbane, Cairns Townsville, Gold Coast. Adelaide and Hobart. Then there is Sky after Dark and radio appearances. Bolt and colleagues nurture a feedback loop which reinforces prejudice, ignorance, and anger. We also found that the audiences that receive the least climate science news and the highest proportion of climate denial opinion are those with lower incomes, especially older men. Is it any accident that scepticism is concentrated amongst older men?
Inside this building are many good reporters but they know they must keep their heads down or look in the other direction. Much of the bias comes from headlines editing, story choice and simply not speaking to critical sources. Recently one of the managers blew the whistle - but over the years, I have personally known of three journalists who said they were pushed out because they would not tow the sceptic line.
News Corp can choose to say on occasions that it does not promote climate scepticism but a lot of research proves otherwise. Editors can change the narrative when it suits. They can admit that the climate is changing but not know whether that change is caused by humans, or they can say the climate is changing but it’s good for us. They can falsely blame bushfires on arson or the Greens. They can change the narrative because what News Corp publishes about climate change has got nothing to do with science or the truth. It’s all about pushing their right-wing toxic agenda that opportunistically promotes division through racism and attacks on public broadcasting, the Greens, community groups, the LBGTQI community, and defames journalists and academics that push back. It’s about defending fossil fuel interests and a socially conservative agenda.
We’ve called this out for decades but now is the time to do more. I’m glad to stand with this protest and call on fellow journalists and academics to do all in our power to expose the Newscorp propaganda machine.
Australia, its peoples and our beautiful land will be better off when the Murdoch family and News Corp loses its power.
Here is a video by Andreas Zimmerman shot at the protest