Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp has attempted to defuse Malcolm Turnbull’s criticism of its coverage of the national bushfire crisis and climate change following a heated debate on ABC’s Q&A between the former prime minister and a senior journalist.
Mr Turnbull attacked the Rupert Murdoch-controlled newspaper company on Monday night for blaming last summer’s fires on arson and urged The Australian’s editor-at-large Paul Kelly and other employees to speak out against the organisation.
“The company you work for and its friends in politics, like Trump and others, have turned this issue of physics into an issue of values or identity,” Mr Turnbull said to Kelly. “Saying you believe or disbelieve in global warming is like saying you believe or disbelieve in gravity.
“We had 12 million of hectares of our country burnt last summer and your newspapers were saying it was all the consequence of some arsonists. “James Murdoch was so disgusted, he disassociated himself from the family business. How offensive, how biased, how destructive does it have to be, Paul, before you will say – one of our greatest writers and journalists – ‘It’s enough, I’m out of it’?”
Kelly said at the time that Mr Turnbull had exaggerated the impact News Corp had on the issue of climate change and told the former prime minister not to lecture him.
But News Corp has now doubled down on its stance on the matter, accusing Mr Turnbull’s comments of being “blatantly untrue”.
A News Corp spokesperson conducted internal research and said that of the 3335 stories published by The Australian, The Daily Telegraph, The Herald Sun, The Courier-Mail and The Advertiser between September 1 2019 and January 23 2020, just 3.4 per cent mentioned the words “arson or “arsonists”.
“The facts demonstrate starkly the falsity of Mr Turnbull’s claim,” a News Corp spokesman said.
“In this same period, news.com.au also published more than 300 bushfire stories, of which only 16 mentioned arson, equivalent to 5 per cent,” the spokesman said. “Not one of these small number of stories stated the bushfires were ‘all the consequence’ of arsonists.”
A story in The Australian in January during the crisis that drew a linkage between arson and bushfires was heavily criticised.
The comments made by Mr Turnbull have reignited a discussion about News Corp’s editorial stance on the topic of climate change. Mr Murdoch’s youngest son James Murdoch abruptly resigned from the board of the global media company in August after years of expressing unease about its editorial direction.
Mr Murdoch and his wife Kathryn Hufschmid, who has worked for the Clinton Climate Initiative, accused the global media empire of promoting climate denialism after News Corp’s coverage of the bushfires gained global attention.
Former News Corp finance manager Emily Townsend sent an email to all employees earlier this year accusing her employer of spreading a “misinformation campaign” on climate change that was “dangerous” and “unconscionable”.
News Corp Australia boss Michael Miller denied the claims at the time.
“Contrary to what some critics have argued, News Corp does not deny climate change or the gravity of its threat,” he said. “However, we – as is the traditional role of a publisher – do report a variety of views and opinions on this issue and many others that are important in the public discourse on the fires.”
Mr Turnbull’s issues with News Corp go far beyond climate change denialism. He is one of a 501,876 people to sign a petition created by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd calling for a royal commission into the influence of News Corp. Mr Turnbull blames News Corp outlets for stoking division in his party which cost him his leadership. The petition was tabled on Monday by Labor frontbencher Andrew Leigh. It is unclear whether anyone in the party will back the call for the investigation.
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