SYDNEY, Australia — After years of doubting climate change and attacking politicians who championed corrective action, Rupert Murdoch’s media in his native Australia is planning an editorial campaign next month advocating for a carbon-neutral future.
Depending on the content, the project, which Monday by executives of Mr. Murdoch’s News Corp. has been described as a breakthrough providing political coverage for Australia’s Conservative government to end its refusal to set ambitious emissions targets. If it persists, it could also put pressure on Fox News and other outlets in the United States and Britain owned by Murdoch, which are hostile to climate science.
But critics, including scientists targeted by News Corp.’s climate action campaign, warned the effort could be little more than a window covering that leaves decades of damage intact.
“Color me skeptical,” said Michael E. Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University. “Until Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. call in their attack dogs on Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, who continue to promote disinformation about climate change on a daily basis, these are empty promises to be seen as a desperate ploy to restore public image. of a leading climate villain.”
As broadly outlined by News Corp’s executives, the project will feature features and feature articles in the company’s influential newspapers, along with Sky News, the 24-hour news channel. They will explore a path to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 — a target set by dozens of countries, which scientific studies show is critical to averting some of global warming’s most catastrophic effects.
Australia News Corp executives have said little publicly about their plans, previously reported by The Sydney Morning Herald. News Corp and a spokesman for Rupert Murdoch did not respond to email requests for comment.
On Monday, Paul Whittaker, the chief executive of Sky News, appeared in the Australian Senate to answer questions at a public hearing on media disinformation. He downplayed the reported shift in climate change priorities.
“I wouldn’t describe it as a campaign,” he said. “I would describe it, in Sky News terms, as an exploration of very complex problems.”
Sky is usually the most extreme feature of News Corp. Last month, YouTube suspended the conservative news channel for a week for violating the platform’s coronavirus disinformation policy. Two years ago, one of the hosts labeled climate change as “a fraudulent and dangerous cult” “driven by unscrupulous and sinister interests.”
In many of the company’s papers, where solid journalism often juxtaposes inexorable ideology in articles that often don’t bear the “opinion” label, the editorial project has been discussed extensively in recent weeks, often with a sense of relief.
A senior newspaper employee at News Corp, who asked for anonymity because he was not allowed to describe internal decision-making, said the editorial efforts reflected a growing recognition by the company that the world had taken a stronger stance on climate change.
He said the project had been developing for months, with several political and business figures being notified in advance, signaling that the move to endorsing net-zero emissions risked surprising conservative allies.
Coordinated campaigns are not uncommon for News Corp, Australia’s dominant commercial news provider, with newspapers in major cities and regional areas. Several outlets are currently pushing for a rapid adoption of Covid-19 vaccination.
In the case of global warming, the campaign is starting just before another round of international climate talks in Scotland.
The timing sparked both hope and cynicism among critics of News Corp’s climate coverage.
“If real, it could provide a crucial boost to the momentum needed for the Glasgow summit in November,” said Joëlle Gergis, a climate scientist at the Australian National University.
Richie Merzian, director of the climate and energy program at the Australia Institute, a forward-thinking research organization, said News Corp should call for immediate action to reduce emissions.
“Actually they go from an F to a D student here,” he said. “The real risk is that News Corp. will shift from denying climate change to delaying climate action with no solutions and inexplicable long-term goals. Net zero in 2050 is almost useless if it is not enforced, if it has no short-term ambition and if there is no accompanying commitment to stop opening new coal mines and new gas fields.”
Professor Mann, whose book “The New Climate War” takes a close look at what he calls “inactivists” — the polluters, politicians and media who oppose climate action — said News Corp may have simply realized that denial in the face of increasingly harsh emerging climate events, especially the horrific 2019-20 bushfires in Australia, were no longer tenable.
“They have turned to other tactics — delay, distraction, deflection, division, etc. — in their effort to maintain the fossil fuel status quo,” he said by email. “Focusing on a 2050 goal three decades away kicks the can so far that it’s largely meaningless. It allows the cynics to appeal to promises of new technology (carbon capture, geoengineering, etc.) ) decades later as a crutch for continuing the normal combustion of fossil fuels.”
Malcolm Turnbull, a former Australian Prime Minister who was frequently attacked by News Corp and overthrown in 2018 in an within-party dispute over climate policy, also warned that News Corp had a long track record that failed to erase a few weeks of coverage. .
News Corp’s renewed commitment, he said, should only be believed if the company’s journalists and editors stop thrashing climate action advocates and stop protecting the conservative MPs who have opposed climate policy.
“That right-wing populist climate-denying part of the coalition is very influential, and its base is the News Corp media,” Mr Turnbull said in an interview. “They live and thrive there. If that changes, it would be significant.”
But, he added, “I’m not going to give them credit for something they haven’t done yet.”
Yan Zhuang contributed from Melbourne, Australia.