#murdochmafia climate change denial: @ekidna1 and @DrRimmer on countering @rupertmurdoch propaganda

Paul Kelly from The Australian interviewing Executive Chairman of News Corp Rupert Murdoch.

Paul Kelly from The Australian interviewing Executive Chairman of News Corp Rupert Murdoch.

In Australia, there has been a fierce debate over media reporting of climate change, particularly by the Murdoch media empire.

In a recent interview in 2014 with Sky News, Rupert Murdoch, the chief executive officer of News Corporation and 21st Century Fox, maintained: ‘We should approach climate change with great scepticism.’ He commented:

Climate change has been going on as long as the planet is here. And there will always be a little bit of it. At the moment the North Pole is melting, but the South Pole is getting bigger. If the sea level rises six inches, that’s a big deal in the world; the Maldives might disappear or something, but OK, we can’t mitigate that, we can’t stop it, we just got to stop building vast houses on seashores. The world has been changing for thousands and thousands of years, and it’s just a lot more complicated today because we’re so much more advanced.

He maintained that, at worst, there would be a 3-degree-Celsius rise in temperature over 100 years, and ‘at the very most one of those [degrees] would be man-made.’

There has been significant criticism of the views of Rupert Murdoch and his media organisations about climate science.  In Robert Manne’s 2011 Quarterly Essay, ‘Bad News: Rupert Murdoch’s Australian and the Shaping of a Nation’, he took aim at News Ltd’s reporting on global warmingstating:

In the real world, scientists accepting the climate consensus view outnumber denialists by more than 99 to one. In the Alice in Wonderland world of [The] Australian, their contributions were outnumbered 10 to one.

In a critique, Dana Nuccitelli commented: ‘Many of Murdoch’s news outlets are also among the worst when it comes to getting climate science wrong and disseminating climate myths and misinformation.’ He observed: ‘Inaccurate media coverage is in turn the primary reason why the public is so misinformed about global warming.’ He maintained: ‘As long as Murdoch and his media empire rely on biased non-expert sources that misrepresent our understanding of climate change and the threats it poses, those media outlets should not be considered credible sources of information about global warming.’ The ABC’s Fact Check labelled Murdoch’s statements about the polar regions ‘misleading’.

The Australian Centre for Independent Journalism has engaged in close analysis of how News Corporation and News Limited have addressed climate change in Australia. The Australian Press Council has handed down a significant ruling on The Australian’s reporting of climate science and the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. There has been further discussion about the need to tackle false balance in the media on the topic of climate change and climate action to tackle fossil fuels.

The Australian Centre for Independent Journalism

In his biography, The Fights of My Life, Greg Combet discussed the role of the Murdoch Press in the Australian political debate over carbon pricing and climate change:

While the policy was being developed, a political firestorm was playing out every day in parliament and the media. Every prophecy of doom by every interest group was afforded prominent and often uncritical media coverage, the fourth estate acting as a megaphone for commercial interests rather than as a guardian of the public interest. Murdoch-owned newspapers like The Australian and The Daily Telegraph carried appallingly biased coverage (256).

Combet reflected: ‘The Daily Telegraph went feral at every opportunity, often with unsubstantiated and absurd assertions about the impact of carbon pricing.’ He lamented: ‘Even with all the resources of government, this was impossible to counteract.’ Combet observed: ‘In fact I was quite surprised that as a Cabinet Minister I had fewer resources available to me to conduct a campaign in the media than I’d had at my disposal when I was at the ACTU.’ Combet observed that the Murdoch press were messengers of the scare campaign by Tony Abbott on carbon pricing in the election: ‘The Murdoch press amplified his claims as part of a campaign for a change of government’ (263).

Such concerns have been supported by research on the topic. The Australian Centre for Independent Journalism undertook two studies on media coverage of climate change in Australia.

The first piece of research — published in 2011 —  focused upon climate change policy. The Centre found: ‘Overall, negative coverage of the Gillard government’s carbon policy across ten newspapers outweighed positive coverage across ten Australian newspapers by 73% to 27%. (Note: After neutral items were discounted).’ The Centre observed: ‘The highest level of neutral articles was found in The Age and The Mercury, the lowest level was found in the NT News and The Daily Telegraph.’ The Centre observed:

The Australian gave far more space to the coverage of climate change than any other newspaper. Its articles were coded 47% negative, 44% neutral and 9% positive. When neutrals were discounted, there were 84% negative articles compared to 17% positive. 

The Centre observed that this finding ‘indicates a very strong stance against the carbon policy adopted by the company that controls most Australian metropolitan newspapers, and the only general national daily.’ The Centre commented: ‘By comparison, Fairfax was far more balanced in its coverage of the policy than News Ltd publications with 57% positive articles outweighing 43% negative articles.’

The Centre concluded: ‘Evidence in this report suggests that many Australians did not receive fair, accurate and impartial reporting in the public interest in relation to the carbon policy in 2011.’ The Centre was disturbed by the concentration of media ownership: ‘This suggests that rather than an open and competitive market that can be trusted to deliver quality media, we may have a case of market failure.’

The second piece of research — published in 2013 — looked at climate science in Australian newspapers. This study highlighted the importance of this issue:

The role of media in a democracy is to truthfully report contemporary events and issues to the public. This includes scientific evidence about the crucial issue of climate change. If people are confused or ignorant about potential threats, they cannot be expected to support action to confront them.  

The report noted: ‘The most significant finding is that nearly a third of all articles referencing climate science published by ten Australian newspapers during three months in 2011 and 2012 did not accept the consensus scientific evidence that human beings are the main contributors to global warming’. The study observed: ‘Given the extremely strong consensus about this evidence, this finding presents a major challenge for media accountability in Australia.’

The report noted that there had been efforts from independent and alternative media organisations to challenge climate scepticism and climate denial in the media:

Journalists also play an important role in investigating climate skepticism. Media Watch, Crikey media, readfearn.com and The Conversation have all played a valuable role in critiquing and holding News Corp accountable. The new online outlet The Global Mail and the arrival of The Guardian and Al Jazeera in Australia have strengthened the reporting of climate change in Australia.

The report concluded: ‘The resolution of that problem will have to address the concentration of media ownership in this country, a concentration that is largely responsible for the active production of ignorance and confusion on one of the most important issues confronting Australia.’

The Australian Press Council

There has been much debate about the role of media regulators and press councils with respect to media reporting and opinion about climate science.

There have been a number of complaints about the coverage of climate change issues to the Australian Press Council over the years.

In 2011, there was a complaint about an opinion article by Tim Blair in The Daily Telegraph entitled, ‘Simple Way to Spit on Dummies.’ Andrew Robertson was concerned that the article ‘implied climate scientists deserved the abuse and death threats they were allegedly receiving by email and, by excusing those emails, incited violent action against the scientists.’ In his view, the article was ‘unfair, offensive and failed to respect the privacy of climate scientists’. The Australian Press Council was of the view that the text was unclear, and could not hold up the complaint: ‘The Press Council considers that the words “Quite so” were capable of being interpreted in the way suggested by the newspaper but were also capable of being seen as condoning threats against climate scientists.’ Nonetheless, the Council reiterated ‘that journalists and editors have a heavy responsibility to avoid language which exacerbates the risk of violence or serious threats of violence.’

In July 2012, there was a complaint over a Piers Akerman opinion piece in The Daily Telegraph entitled ‘Greens and their Crazy Cronies are Holding a Gun to our Head.’ Akerman alleged that the ‘UN’s global warming bogeyman was created by members of environmental activist groups working within the International Panel on Climate Change’. The Press Council did not uphold the complaint – but noted ‘the Council emphasises that this outcome is due largely to the assertions in question being insufficiently specific for their accuracy or falsity to be established.’ The Press Council stressed: ‘The outcome does not imply acceptance or rejection of the assertions by either the columnist or the complainant in relation to the IPCC.’

In December 2012, the Australian Press Council considered several complaints about Andrew Bolt’s column in The Herald Sun, ‘Time that climate alarmists fessed up’. In a somewhat tentative ruling, the Australian Press Council ‘concluded that Mr Bolt was clearly entitled to express his own opinion about the Met Office data but in doing so he needed to avoid conveying a misleading interpretation of the Met Office’s own views on its data’. In another disclaimer, the Australian Press Council commented that ‘this adjudication neither endorses nor rejects any particular theories or predictions about global warming and related issues’. The Australian Press Council observed that ‘on issues of such major importance the community is best served by frank disclosure and discussion rather than, for example, failure to acknowledge significant shorter or longer-term trends in relevant data.’

In July 2014, the Australian Press Council handed down a ruling upon The Australian’s reporting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and climate science in 2013. This ruling was very critical. The Australian Press Council ‘concluded that the erroneous claim about the revised warming rate was very serious, given the importance of the issue and of the need for accuracy (both of which were emphasised in the editorial that repeated the claim without qualification)’. The Australian Press Council noted: ‘Although based on another publication’s report, the claim was unequivocally asserted in The Australian headline, “We got it wrong on warming, says IPCC”, which also implied the IPCC had acknowledged the alleged error.’  The Australian Press Council observed that ‘rigorous steps should have been taken before giving such forceful and prominent credence to The Mail on Sunday’s claim’. The Australian Press Council found: ‘Accordingly, the complaint on that ground is upheld.’

In addition, the Australian Press Council observed that the problems were compounded by a further editorial and the treatment of a letter from a climate scientist, Professor David Karoly from the University of Melbourne:

Given Professor Karoly’s expertise and the importance of the issue, his letter should have triggered a prompt and thorough investigation by the publication. Instead, the error was repeated in an editorial on the page opposite his letter. Moreover, his letter was published below other letters which assumed the original article was true and under a collective heading which reflected their views, rather than his correction. The Council considers the gravity of the erroneous claim, and its repetition without qualification in the editorial, required a correction which was more substantial, and much more prominent than a single paragraph in the lower half of page 2. The heading should also have given a brief indication of the subject matter in order to help attract the attention of readers of the original article (and editorial), and thereby meet the Council’s long-standing requirement that a correction “has the effect, as far as possible, of neutralising any damage arising from” the original article.

The Australian Press Council noted: ‘Accordingly, the complaints about the correction are upheld.’ The Council welcomed ‘the acknowledgements of error and expressions of regret which the publication eventually made to it’ but said that ‘they should have been made very much earlier, and made directly to the publication’s readers in a frank and specific manner.’

Paul Barry from Media Watch commented: ‘That’s about as strong as the Press Council can get.’

This mixture of decisions by the Australian Press Council show a variety of outcomes in adjudications dealing with the topic of climate change. There has been much debate as to whether the Council is adequate in reviewing controversies over the media, generally, and climate change, more specifically. There has been a debate in Australian politics as to whether there should be stronger regulation of the media, particularly in respect of news.

In the context of the debate over the Australian Press Council, it is worth remembering that News Corp. led a campaign against media law reforms recommended in the Ricketson report and the Finkelstein report, and promoted, albeit weakly, by the Minister for Broadband, Communications, and the Digital Economy — Stephen Conroy. In August 2014, The Australian has launched an attack upon the Press Council and its Chairman. An editorial observed: ‘We cannot speak for our stablemates but this newspaper has lost confidence in Australian Press Council chairman Julian Disney and deplores the direction in which he has taken the council.’ The editorial complained: ‘The Australian Press Council has become erratic in its rulings, unmoored from its foundations, ponderous and serpentine in its procedures, side-tracked by its chairman’s peculiar tastes and political predilections and ineffective as a body that promotes good practice.’ It is difficult to ascertain whether The Australian and other members of the Murdoch Media have been particularly upset about its recent rebuke on climate change reporting by the Australian Press Council. 

Policies about false balance

In the 2010 classic work, Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway discuss the complicity of the mass media with Merchants of Doubt – such as the fossil fuel industry. The pair noted: ‘Journalists were constantly pressured to grant the professional deniers equal status — and equal time and newsprint space — and they did’ (214). Oreskes and Conway were concerned that such coverage resulted in an information bias — in which the ideal of balance leads journalists to give minority views more credence than they deserve’ (215). Oreskes and Conway concluded: ‘This divergence between the state of the science and how it was presented in the major media helped make it easy for our government to do nothing about global warming’ (215).

In their book Climate Change Denial, Haydn Washington and John Cook discuss false balance in media discussions of climate change issues: 

It seems today that any factually wrong and one-sided article can be published by papers in the name of ‘freedom of speech’ and putting forward all sides of an issue. However, journalists are not meant to be proponents of just one side of a debate, they are meant to put both sides and to also check their sources (94).

In an attempt to look editorially ‘balanced’ media outlets have been creating this ‘false balance’. This involves pitting the climate scientist again the climate science denier, then letting a debate run, in the name of giving balance and equal news time to these opposing sides. With an almost consensus view of 97% of climate scientists that human induced climate change is real and happening now, this so called balanced view of reporting becomes a falsity giving time to a viewpoint that is rejected by the scientific community.

In October 2013, the Los Angeles Times announced a new policy on letters from climate change deniers. Paul Thornton noted that the newspaper received plenty of letters from those who deny global warming: ‘Many say climate change is a hoax, a scheme by liberals to curtail personal freedom.’ He emphasized that the newspaper would decline to publish pieces espousing climate denial on the grounds of factual inaccuracy.

And those scientists have provided ample evidence that human activity is indeed linked to climate change. Just last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — a body made up of the world’s top climate scientists — said it was 95% certain that we fossil-fuel-burning humans are driving global warming. The debate right now isn’t whether this evidence exists (clearly, it does) but what this evidence means for us. Simply put, I do my best to keep errors of fact off the letters page; when one does run, a correction is published. Saying “there’s no sign humans have caused climate change” is not stating an opinion, it’s asserting a factual inaccuracy.

There have been a number of other newspapers, which have followed the lead of the Los Angeles Times.

To address false balance news outlets such as BBC News are putting in place measures to curb the time given to people with anti-science viewpoints, including those who deny existence of climate change. The BBC Trust Review follow-up about impartiality and accuracy of the BBC’s coverage of science said: 

There should be no attempt to give equal weight to opinion and to evidence” and that a ‘false balance’ between well-established fact and opinion must be avoided. 

Those who have no scientific credentials are often given media time and quoted as ‘experts’. The man tasked with evaluating the BBC’s science reporting, biologist Steve Jones, said:

This goes to the heart of science reporting — you wouldn’t have a homeopath speaking alongside a brain surgeon for balance, as that would be absurd. It’s just as absurd to have a climate sceptic for balance against the work of the overwhelming majority of climate scientists.

There is also a need to deal with the problem of astroturfing – in which fossil fuel companies rely upon consultants, think-tanks and fake ‘grass-roots’ movements to advance their policy agendas in the mass media, turning public opinion into some type of commodity. 


There is clearly a lack of balanced and factual reporting about climate change being espoused by the Murdoch media. There is a need to develop an independent and free press in Australia – which has respect for science and scientists. Journalists need to be free to write honestly and openly about the inconvenient truths of climate change and global warming. There is a need to ensure that the reporting on climate change in the Australian media is factual, accurate, and not misleading. There should be prompt corrections and remedial action if published material is inaccurate or misleading. Instead presenting a ‘false balance’ about climate change, there is a need to seek out expert opinion from climate scientists. The Fourth Estate must not tolerate greenwashing, astroturfing, and climate denial. There is a need to combat conflicts of interest, particularly in respect of the debate over climate change. A free and diverse media will be essential to any Australian politician trying to implement climate policy and action on climate change for the benefit for present and future generations.


Kylee Carpenter
Kylee Carpenter is an environmental communications specialist, recently trained as a Climate Reality Leader with Al Gore and undertaking postgraduate studies in social media and public engagement at the University of Canberra. She currently works in media, communications and public relations with a research centre. Her previous roles have included environmental management and sustainability strategy in a variety of sectors including environmental NGO’s, universities, utilities, local government and health care.

Dr Matthew Rimmer
 Dr Matthew Rimmer is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow, working on Intellectual Property and Climate Change. He is an associate professor at the ANU College of Law, and an associate director of the Australian Centre for Intellectual Property in Agriculture (ACIPA). He holds a BA (Hons) and a University Medal in literature, and a LLB (Hons) from the Australian National University. He is a member of the ANU Climate Change Institute. Dr Rimmer is the author of Digital Copyright and the Consumer Revolution: Hands off my iPodIntellectual Property and Biotechnology: Biological Inventionsand Intellectual Property and Climate Change: Inventing Clean TechnologiesHe is an editor of Patent Law and Biological InventionsIncentives for Global Public Health: Patent Law and Access to Essential Medicines, and Intellectual Property and Emerging Technologies: The New BiologyRimmer has published widely on copyright law and information technology, patent law and biotechnology, access to medicines, clean technologies, and traditional knowledge. His work is archived at SSRN Abstracts and Bepress Selected Works.


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  1. Chris Doonan says

    Making the distinction between fact and opinion empowers us all. Thankyou for this enlightening article

  2. Joy Cooper says

    It is very strange how Murdoch, when in Australia, poohpoohs climate change & its science but when overseas brags about his various companies’ green energy credentials & how their carbon footprint is zero. This started for him back in 2007.

    It would seem he has conflicting vested interests. One where he states it is in his best business interests to tackle the causes of climate change within his enterprises, (yet at the same time his Fox News constantly denies the science). The other where he espouses the opposite by rubbishing CC & encouraging his consumers to do the same.


  3. By misrepresenting facts and in promoting little short of Hitleresque propaganda through his news outlets – isn’t Rupert Murdoch a huge threat to democracy? When you control the press and have no commitment to providing objective information – are you not an unfit person to operate such an enterprise?