5.2 Editors

At the 2020 News Corp annual general meeting, Rupert Murdoch asserted that “there are no sceptics” at News Corp. This is not true. Editors are selected by senior management. Their ongoing employment is presumably a reflection of their alignment with the editorial culture of the company.

Of 72 editorials over the period of study that expressed a view towards climate science, 61% rejected or raised doubt about climate science findings. 39% of the editorials expressed an acceptance of climate science findings. This is a position, and part of a strategy.

In the column ‘ABC ideological blinkers cost broadcaster its credibility and viewership’ in The Australian on 4 August 2019, Chris Mitchell (ex-editor) explained that in 2002 he decided to ‘report the IPCC and the work of scientists in the field that would also open its pages to dissenters, both on the science and on the economics’. The editorial policy that he established became entrenched and flourishes today. Mitchell does not explain how he resolved the tension between the journalistic requirement that opinion be based on facts with his decision to publish sceptics.

It is one thing to argue that columnists provide a diversity of viewpoints, but editorials are a different matter because they represent the views of the publication. Editors often do not personally write the editorials but they do approve them. This is why Mitchell and others are much more sensitive about findings that their editorials are sceptical.

In fact, News Corp Australia has been publishing sceptical editorials since 1997. In 2010, David McKnight found that ‘newspapers and television stations owned by News Corporation, based on their editorials, columnists and commentators, largely denied the science of climate change’, and that its corporate view framed the issue as one of political correctness rather than science. He concluded: ‘Scientific knowledge was portrayed as an orthodoxy and its own stance, and that of “climate sceptics” as one of courageous dissent.’ McKnight was unable to identify ‘a substantial body of articles establishing the science and challenging the climate dissidents’ claims’ (McKnight, 2010, p. 700).

The Australian’s Environment Editor Graham Lloyd published a rebuttal called ‘Sceptical writers skipped inconvenient truths’ on 10 December 2010. McKnight pointed to an editorial on January 14, 2006 that argued that the environment movement was about ‘more theology than meteorology’ and ‘[S]upport for Kyoto cloaks the green movement’s real desire: to see capitalism stop succeeding.’ McKnight quoted another editorial that accused ‘deep green Luddites’ of believing that ‘the only way to avert the coming apocalypse is to close down all the power plants, take all cars off the road and return to a pre-industrial Arcadia.’

In 2011, Robert Manne’s Quarterly Essay entitled ‘Bad News’ included a content analysis of all articles about climate change published by The Australian between January 2004 and April 2011 (Manne, 2011, pp.37–54). In response, Environmental Editor Graham Lloyd argued that the editorial stance of The Australian was one of clear acceptance of anthropogenic climate change and quoted from an editorial published at the time of the 2007 IPCC report which stated that ‘global warming is unequivocally happening, and … humans are, in the panel’s view, highly likely to be causing most of it.’

He accused Manne of ignoring material published in The Australian which supported the climate science consensus and of unfairly quoting a 2006 editorial. He wrote, ‘Manne quotes half a kicker headline from an editorial of January 12, 2006, which said “climate change may be a mirage”. The second half of the headline, which Manne neglected to report, was “global poverty is not”.’ It is difficult to imagine how the words, ‘climate change may be a mirage’, in whatever context they were written, could be read as consistent with the scientific consensus position on anthropogenic climate change.

The Daily Telegraph’s editorial on 14 May 2019, ‘The Telegraph says: Coded message is Shorten slur’, criticises Greenpeace protests and then sarcastically discredits and trivialises the idea of a climate emergency almost in passing. ‘Greenpeace claimed their protest was a demand to PM Scott Morrison that he declare a “climate emergency”, which would have seemed odd during a beautiful Sydney autumn day.’ This statement is deliberately designed to raise doubt in readers about the need for urgent action on climate change as found by thousands of scientists who contributed to the IPCC report. This is further explained in Section 4.6 and further discussed in Section 6.1.

In the same vein, The Australian editorial on 12 December 2019 titled ‘Climate Change Grandstanding’ hits back at the NSW Minister for the Environment and others who have linked catastrophic bushfires with climate change, which, again, is a link confirmed by climate scientists.

The editorial quotes Coalition MP Matt Canavan as referring to the ‘bogeyman of climate change’ suggesting that it is mythical rather than real. NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey’s view that there have been ‘extreme weather events in Australia for centuries’ is endorsed. ‘“Everyone on the ground knows that this is simply caused by a lack of rain,” she told Sky News on Wednesday. Severe drought has been the primary driver of this season’s fires.’ The intended message that increased risk of drought is not linked to climate change is another example of sidestepping the scientific issue and consensus that extreme weather is linked to climate change.

Similarly to the Peta Credlin column discussed above, the editorial recounted historical facts to demonstrate that ‘Bushfires are endemic to our land’ (No one has actually disputed this; the issue is scale and frequency). The Australian writes, ‘What is different now is that climate change is being blamed, even by people who should know better’.

This presents the issue as if someone has simply decided to ‘blame’ climate change instead of recognising that those statements reflect the findings of scientists. Minister Kean is accused of ‘playing political parlour games’ and ‘taking the focus away from victims and people risking their lives to fight bushfires. Whatever the case with the science, we need to take practical steps to reduce the risk of bushfires.’ This not only suggests that the science is an open question but also presents the argument as an either/or situation, which Kean has not done. The use of ‘grandstanding’ and ‘standard ploy’ suggests that science is being used as a political tool.

In another editorial on 19 December, ‘Media panic on climate, bushfires and a vacation’, The Australian attacks others for being in ‘a post-fact age, high on emotion, fear and blame. Remember when journalism was about facts?’ This editorial refers to ‘loony claims’ that ‘Australia is burning, climate change is causing it and we can fix it by slashing our emissions now. Our public debate is dominated by emotionalism while reporters chase non-stories sparked into the world by memes and tweets.’ While it may be true that some commenters on Twitter and elsewhere imply that if emissions were instantly slashed, the climate change problem would disappear, this is not what journalists were reporting.

The Guardian’s Deputy Editor Katharine Murphy is attacked for suggesting that ‘We have a government, led by (Morrison), which is, in many different ways, failing to rise to the challenges of our time. They. Are. Failing. I get very impatient about that. I get very worried about that.’ Although this view is widely shared by scientists and others, The Guardian is accused of a ‘ceaseless hunt for clicks, with a begging bowl out for donations, climate alarmism is a brand optimiser. That’s fine up to a point. But a reader wandering into The Guardian’s pious yarn garden may think its journalists are reporting news. They. Are. Not.’ As The Australian understands well, The Guardian publishes news and opinion, just like News Corp. To suggest that worrying about climate change is a form of ‘climate alarmism’ may not be an explicit rejection of climate change science but it deliberately undermines it.

The editorial goes on to endorse a statement by columnist Chris Kenny that ‘Grown adults blame governments for weather’, suggesting it adopts his trivialisation of ‘climate’ as just ‘weather’. It undermines the credibility of former NSW Fire and Rescue Commissioner Greg Mullins (who warned about the consequences of ignoring climate change) by reminding readers that he is funded by Tim Flannery’s Climate Council (Tim Flannery is another common target of News Corp). The editorial attacks NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean who it says ‘has directly blamed the fires on climate change.’ In using the word ‘directly’, it suggests that Kean has stated that climate change has literally lit particular fires, which he has not. Rather than clarifying direct and indirect causation issues, The Australian deliberately confuses them. Again, The Australian suggests that Kean is playing a political ‘game’. He is accused of misleading the public as it diverts attention from what he should be doing to limit bushfires. The suggestion is that action to reduce bushfires and action to reduce emissions is a binary, mutually exclusive choice.

The editorial includes a quote from Kenny: ‘rational arguments, hard facts and intelligent debate have been cast aside in favour of woke whingeing.’ It ends with ‘It’s not even Christmas but in a post-fact age, amid End Times gloom and attention-clamour disorder, our faux climate emergency is just beginning.’

Ironically, The Australian accusation of ‘post-fact’ is one that much more accurately describes News Corp’s own employees Andrew Bolt and Tim Blair.