News Corp faces pressure to cease 'ongoing denial' of Australian bushfire causes

James Murdoch is among many who have called out his family's media outlets for biased reporting.

News Corp: its newspapers have shown support for prime minister Scott Morrison and his Liberal Party
News Corp: its newspapers have shown support for prime minister Scott Morrison and his Liberal Party

As bushfires continue to burn in Australia, James Murdoch – son of media tycoon Rupert Murdoch – has criticised his family’s News Corp outlets for downplaying the impact of climate change on the fires.

Murdoch and his wife, Kathryn Murdoch, issued a joint statement to say that they were "particularly disappointed with the ongoing denial among the news outlets in Australia given obvious evidence to the contrary".

He is a board member at News Corp, while his brother, Lachlan Murdoch, is co-chairman.

News Corp has come under fire for focusing too heavily on arson as a cause of the fires, while columnists have described the link to climate change as "hysterical".

One headline in The Australian read: "Hysterical efforts to blame the fires on climate change continue, even though we have always faced this threat and always will." Miranda Devine, a high-profile conservative journalist, yesterday wrote a piece for Australia's The Daily Telegraph with the headline: "We know the cause of these fires – and it’s not the climate."

Media academic and journalist Meg Simons told The Guardian that the purpose of groups such as News Corp was to "stifle public debate".

"Such behaviour amplifies certain voices in our society at the cost of others," she said. "This is possible because of our highly concentrated media ownership. If we had more diversity of media ownership, there would be less reason to worry when one set of outlets goes rogue or off on some campaign of its own invention."

News Corp controls 70% of Australia's media circulation, publishing more than 140 newspapers and employing 3,000 journalists in print, broadcast and online.

Last week, Emily Townsend, commercial finance manager at News Corp, sent a company-wide email expressing her disappointment about her company’s coverage of the fires.

"I have been severely impacted by the coverage of News Corp publications in relation to the fires, in particular the misinformation campaign that has tried to divert attention away from the real issue – which is climate change – to rather focus on arson (including misrepresenting facts)," the email read.

"I find it unconscionable to continue working for this company, knowing I am contributing to the spread of climate-change denial and lies. The reporting I have witnessed in The Australian, The Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun is not only irresponsible, but dangerous and damaging to our communities and beautiful planet that needs us more than ever now to acknowledge the destruction we have caused and start doing something about it."

A version of this story first appeared on PRWeek Asia 

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