6.4 Protest, Climate Movements, and the Language of Denial

Language is an important part of politics, including the politics of climate change.

Much of News Corp’s rejection of climate change science takes place through the language deployed by opinion writers and letter writers to diminish and delegitimise climate change advocates. This language builds an attitude of negativity in the audience.

Overall, the study shows that the coverage of climate change protests and movements was particularly negative. This is not surprising as News Corp generally pursues a ‘law and order’ agenda and would be unlikely to support a civil disobedience campaign or school strikes.

Of 369 such items in The Daily Telegraph, 77% were negative, compared to 14% positive, and 9% were neutral. The Daily Telegraph was the most biased against protest and movements to address climate change, and was over three times more likely to be negative than either neutral or positive. This bias was shown most clearly by opinion pieces. New items tended to be more balanced, with 39% coded as negative, 33% positive, and 27% neutral.

Coders observed that the vehemence of the opinion pieces appeared to increase during the time of the Extinction Rebellion protests, and was particularly directed at Swedish campaigner Greta Thunberg.

This brief and indicative analysis accords with the findings of Dr Myra Gurney of Western Sydney University who undertook a linguistic analysis of a corpus of Andrew Bolt columns (Gurney, 2017). Her conclusions could be applied to sceptics more generally. Gurney argues that Bolt constructs himself as an ‘Australian who respects reason and evidence’. She identified two contradictory discourses. One prefers democratic rights to freedom of speech versus the authority of expert scientists and the impunity of scientific method and rules of evidence. The other, through labelling climate science as a religious ‘faith’, diminishes its authority.

What follows is not a fully-fledged linguistic analysis because that was beyond the parameters of this project. However, because the choice of language is an important element, alongside selection of sources and framing of issues, we asked coders to record notable terms that were used in opinion pieces and letters, without undertaking a systematic linguistic analysis. The results are collated in the lists below.

Describing climate science and climate change movements

Describing people

Targeting well-known campaigners for climate change action

Greta Thunberg

Scientist Tim Flannery, Chief Councillor of the Climate Council

Malcolm Turnbull

Describing institutions


News Corp Australia’s cover-all justification for using such belittling and sarcastic language in its publications is based on a ‘right to free speech’, a right which their opinion writers assert is threatened.

Within the scope of this study, it has not been possible to analyse this language comprehensively. However, certain themes emerge clearly. These general themes include:

These themes reflect the broader ideological and political affiliations of climate change scepticism as a right-wing political movement. The use of heightened language – slurs, insults and exaggerations – is designed to evoke an emotional response in readers rather than shape their opinions with facts and rational argument.