Within the climate schism of the Murdoch family

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At that time, the tycoon was talking about his legacy with his youngest son James and his wife Kathryn, the second oldest daughter, Elisabeth and Murdoch’s wife, Wendi Deng, according to sources with knowledge of the family’s internal functioning. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The group represented the most progressive elements of Murdoch’s family circle at that time and was driving climate change as a cause. The eldest son Lachlan was abroad at the time he temporarily left the family business a year earlier.

James had just turned British pay-TV provider BSkyB, then controlled by News Corp, into a carbon-neutral company. A year later, Rupert announced plans for all companies in its media empire to produce zero net carbon emissions by 2010. They reached their goal.

[James and Kathryn Murdoch] They are particularly disappointed with the continuing denial among the media, given the obvious evidence to the contrary.

James and Kathryn Murdoch spokesperson

“We always look for new ways to reach our global audience and address the problems that have the greatest impact on their lives. Global climate change is clearly one of those problems,” Murdoch said in a memorandum to staff in May 2007. “It begins with us. On Wednesday in New York, I will launch CoolChange, a major energy initiative at News Corporation. “

In Australia, that initiative was known as 1Degree and the Adweek industry publication reported that some News Corp employees were surprised, as Murdoch is best known for supporting conservative policies. In fact, the News Corp Human Resources department sent a second memo to clarify. But all the signs pointed to the Murdoch taking climate change seriously. By 2017, News Corp had reached zero waste in all its printing centers internationally and had achieved 400 energy saving projects.

Those who worked closely on the 1Degree initiative said that News Corp management never rejected a request on climate change initiatives. “News Corp has been a leader in reducing emissions,” said former News Corp chief of environment Tony Wilkins. “They have been doing it for 20 years. Individual companies have reduced emissions by up to 56 percent.”

However, few remember those efforts today. As forest fires ravage the country, criticisms of News Corp’s climate change coverage in its Australian newspapers have been relentless. As the links between climate change and the ferocity of forest fires developed, there was a subsidiary debate about the suitability of certain articles and opinion articles in The australian, The daily Telegraph and the Herald sun accumulated momentum

Soon everyone, from former Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull (who blame Murdoch for undermining them while they were in office) to The New York Times denounced the Murdoch press.

In an opinion article on Time Turnbull magazine wrote: “This issue has been kidnapped by a toxic alliance that denies the climate change of politics and the right-wing media (much of which is owned by Murdoch), as well as commercial interests created.”

Last week, this masthead revealed that Emily Townsend, finance manager of News Corp, had used one of her last days at work to send an email to all employees accusing her employer of spreading a “wrong information campaign” about climate change that was “dangerous” and “excessive.” “.

The email was widely read throughout Australia’s media industry, but would be quickly overshadowed by an even more extraordinary development.

Days later, James and Kathryn Murdoch pointed to what they described as weather denial in News Corp. “They are particularly disappointed with the ongoing denial among the media in Australia, given the obvious evidence to the contrary,” said a spokesman for The couple in a statement. declaration to publication in the USA UU. The daily beast. James’s criticisms are even more surprising given that he is still the director of the family business (Lachlan and Rupert are co-chairs and executive directors).

Email from News Corp staff member Emily Townsend about climate change.

Rupert Murdoch told investors at the company’s annual meeting last year that “there are no climate change deniers.” But News Corp has published many pieces that have questioned the legitimacy of the science of climate change widely accepted in the last decade.

Columns of writer Andrew Bolt of Melbourne and Sky commentator (and the Australian financial review columnist) Rowan Dean in the tabloids and former ASX president Maurice Newman in The australian They have described climate change as a “cult” and a “socialist plot.” In a broadcast on Sky News, owned by News Corp, Bolt criticized the “constant flow of propaganda” on ABC about the climate crisis. Many of these articles appeared while Lachlan effectively led the Australian operations. A friend of Tony Abbott, Lachlan is considered even more conservative than his father.

On the other hand, the main figures of News Corp say in private that they are the object of a witch hunt. Responding publicly to the email of all Townsend staff, local News Corp chief Michael Miller said “News Corp does not deny climate change or the severity of its threat.” The australian He published an editorial in his Saturday paper defending his coverage. The newspaper argued that it had been “intentionally and ineptly misrepresented” by The New York Times Y The Guardian.

Certainly, News Corp’s coverage has become more moderate in recent days with The daily Telegraph editorialize in favor of advancing the debate on climate change on Thursday.

However, James’ message this week has touched a nerve. News Corp is now largely in the history of climate change. The organization is preparing for a protest that is planned for Friday outside its offices, and has increased its security measures in response to comments from social networks in recent weeks.

“We’ve been working with the local police, but we’re not sure how many protesters they plan to attend, so, as a precaution, the street outside the building will be blocked,” said Nicholas Gray, managing director of The Australian, NSW & Prestige Titles Nicholas Gray. He wrote to the staff on Thursday.

David Armstrong, former editor in chief of The australian from the 1990s now living in Thailand, he said that James’s public statement would trigger a “new evaluation” of News Corp.

“James has always been more progressive on social issues than his father or brother Lachlan, so I am sure that his and Kathryn’s opinions are well known within the family and the high levels of the company,” Armstrong said.

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“But now that they are public, I hope that the executive president of News Corp Australia, Michael Miller, and their editors will use the statement by James and Kathryn as an opportunity to reassess their coverage, to wonder if it reflects the state of knowledge, and now the devastating experience of climate change and its impact on Australia. And then act on the responses. “

Three former News Corp executives, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to concerns about reprisals, said James’s statement was not surprising, given his opinion about climate change and his difficult relationship with his brother, Lachlan, are well known.

“James and Lachlan are ideologically separated and will continue to be,” said one of the former executives. A former executive said James would intentionally distance himself from his family’s scrutiny of his local coverage.

Many observers believe that Rupert has become less interested in climate change since the wave of announcements in the mid-2000s. It is not exactly clear what is behind this, or what drove him 15 years ago when he positioned his companies with A more environmentally friendly posture.

Some with an idea of ​​the internal functioning of News Corp have suggested that the change of view came after the resignation in 2009 of his right hand, Peter Chernin, who had supported efforts to make News Corp more environmentally friendly. Murdoch’s separation with his ex-wife Wendi is also considered by some as a factor, as is his proximity to Lachlan.

Regardless of the motivation, News’s renewed efforts to devote time to the relief or sustainability of forest fires are now cynical. Although Murdoch dedicated $ 2 million to the cause himself and another $ 5 million for forest fire relief through the organization, critics continue to point to him, his publications and his columnists.

“It is a total overreach on behalf of some of its high profile columnists and broadcasters,” said a former executive, who suggested they should focus on mitigating the problems.

Continuous criticism puts the News Corp headboards in a difficult position. Sources have suggested that, while some readers may share the views of denial columnists, companies, including News Corp advertising customers, are now suffering financially from perceptions that the company has not evolved over time. Two former executives expressed concern about the News Corp journalists who had been covering the fires for months.

“It must be very discouraging,” Armstrong added. “Like other journalists who tell Australians the stories of this immense natural and national disaster, they deserve thanks and praise. I hope critics can see that newspaper coverage is much more than just conservative comments.”

The former CEO of News Corp, Kim Williams, declined to comment on James’s comments directly, but said the false equivalence, the idea of ​​giving the same prevalence to different points of view when one has no foundation and another has a solid foundation probative, was one of the main ethical reports Editorial challenges for journalism.

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“It’s a really challenging dilemma for all executives, editorial leaders and journalists working in the media of the 21st century,” said Williams.

However, despite criticism, few media observers believe that the recent criticism that News Corp has achieved will damage the company’s long-term operations.

As a former executive said: “When the smoke comes out figuratively and literally, News will continue to be one of the most powerful organizations in the country.”

And as for the 1Degree website, it hasn’t been updated in two years. News Corp confirmed that the initiative is still running and the company still reports on its efforts to reduce its carbon footprint and the Global Environmental Initiative. But he never officially replaced Wilkins, who led the initiative since its inception, when he left in 2017.

Zoe Samios is a media and telecommunications journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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