Many Americans know that Fox News, owned by Rupert Murdoch, is home to some of the most vocal climate change deniers in the U.S.
For years, conservative host Laura Ingraham has said climate change was based on scientific fraud and that global warming was a lie.
But recently, Vice News reported that Murdoch’s company News Corporation has documented its own internal carbon footprint since 2006 and has privately sought to take a leadership role on climate change.
And just last month, the company’s arm in Australia debuted an editorial campaign in its tabloids, playing up the need for the world to cut emissions by 2050. The coverage is a sharp turn for the Murdoch outlets, which for years have been peddlers of climate denial.
But critics aren't convinced Murdoch has turned a new leaf.
Gabi Mocatta has been keeping tabs on the News Corp campaign called Mission Zero. She's a research fellow in climate change communication at the University of Tasmania and a lecturer in journalism at Deakin University in Melbourne in Australia.
Mission Zero focuses on climate change and economic benefits for Australia. Stories from News Corp-owned tabloids now champion the need to get to net zero by 2050 and argue decarbonization won’t be as expensive as they previously reported. Articles hype up how these moves will bolster thousands of more jobs for Australians.
“That's a big turnabout, but that's just scratching the surface,” Mocatta says. “There's a bit more to dig into and analyze.”
For years, News Corp entities, whether digital, print or broadcast, have often spewed an anti-action message on climate change. Similar to Ingraham in the U.S., Sky News Australia broadcasters and their guests have called those pushing for climate change action “loons,” “hysterics” and “a cult of the elite” who have “children brainwashed.”
The new campaign isn’t necessarily swaying from the norm, she says, but rather going from “climate denialism” to pushing “climate delay.”
Campaign messaging, framed around the idea that urgent climate action isn’t needed, defends Australia’s emissions as comparatively small to other countries’ emissions and says renewable energy is an unreliable alternative to fossil fuels, Mocatta explains.
“It's been promoting Australia's coal as cleaner than other countries' coal, which may be true for some of our coal, but the IEA, the International Energy Agency, says that all countries need to start quitting coal right now in order to stay within safe limits of global warming,” she says.
And “really surprisingly,” Mission Zero has promoted nuclear energy as a viable alternative for the country, she says. “Which, if you take a deeper look, is not necessarily the best option for Australia, given we have such fantastic renewable resources.”
While News Corp's surface-level messaging of reaching net zero goals and boosting the economy may seem like a step in the right direction, Mocatta says it’s really the media company dragging its feet.
There have been critics inside of News Corp outlets, like conservative commentator Andrew Bolt who called the Mission Zero campaign “global warming propaganda.”
There’s another storyline at play: the public perception of the company after the way Murdoch's outlets covered the deadly 2019 to 2020 Black Summer bushfires. According to reports, his commentators downplayed the intense blazes and sent out misinformation about the cause.
The media tycoon’s own son, James Murdoch, quit the board in protest. James Murdoch said he had concerns about the “ongoing denial among the news outlets in Australia given obvious evidence to the contrary.”
Mocatta says the Mission Zero campaign is also about a public relations clean up and pleasing advertisers.
“If an organization takes a stance that is contrary to public mood and public perception of an issue, it risks losing advertising revenue on that account,” she says. “So I think that's been an astute business move as much as a climate epiphany.”
There's a sort of two-pronged approach — one public facing, one more private — to hot button issues here in the U.S. by Fox News.
Fox News hosts are vocal against vaccine mandates, yet a vaccine mandate exists for Fox Corporation employees. Murdoch’s U.S. hosts are big backers of former President Donald Trump, but according to reporting, Murdoch despises Trump.
For the Australian campaign, Mocatta thinks the messaging was to some degree related to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s administration’s net zero plans in the lead up to COP26 climate conference.
“I think that it was important that News Corp established this campaign at that time so that Scott Morrison would know that Australia's most powerful political actor — as News Corp has been called — would not campaign against him when he came out to declare that net zero by 2050,” she says.
The move also correlates with the need to match the mood of the country. Surveys have shown many Australians are concerned for the climate, she says, meaning this group could become a voting block.
Morrison’s conservative Australian government — wrestling to keep up with public opinion — wants to stay in power and needs News Corp’s support to do so, Mocatta says, making Mission Zero “really quite predictable politically.”
This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a project aimed at strengthening the media’s focus on the climate crisis. WBUR is one of 400+ news organizations that have committed to a week of heightened coverage around the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. Check out all our coverage here.
This segment aired on November 9, 2021.