Rupert Murdoch has made his first public comments about the abrupt resignation of his son James Murdoch from News Corporation’s board, rejecting assertions the company denies climate change or that he did not consider his son’s point of view.
News Corp, owner of The Australian, The Daily Telegraph and The Herald Sun was criticised by James Murdoch and his wife Kathryn Hufschmid in January for promoting climate denialism after the global media empire’s coverage of Australia’s bushfire crisis gained global attention and scrutiny. James decided in August to quit the board of directors after years of unease about its editorial direction.
At the company’s annual general meeting on Thursday morning (AEDT) Mr Murdoch was asked why he did not accommodate some of James Murdoch’s views on climate change or President Donald Trump.
“Our board has many discussions but James… claims that our papers have covered the bushfires in Australia without discussing climate change. We do not deny climate change, we are not deniers,” Rupert Murdoch said.
Mr Murdoch’s comments are the latest to approach the topic of climate change and the way the News Corp mastheads approached it. The debate was ignited by former News Corp finance manager Emily Townsend in January, who sent an email to all employees accusing her employer of spreading a “misinformation campaign” on climate change that was “dangerous” and “unconscionable”. James went public with his perspective on the matter days later.
News Corp’s coverage of the bushfires was revived earlier this month in a heated debate between former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and The Australian’s editor-at-large Paul Kelly on ABC’s Q&A. Mr Turnbull attacked News Corp for blaming last summer’s fires on arson and urged Kelly and other employees to speak out against the organisation. A story in The Australian in January during the crisis that drew a link between arson and bushfires was heavily criticised.
“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,” Mr Turnbull said on November 9. “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’?”
A News Corp spokesperson tried to diffuse the situation by arguing of the 3335 stories bushfire related stories by The Australian, The Daily Telegraph, The Herald Sun, The Courier-Mail and The Advertiser between September 1, 2019 and January 23, 2020, 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.”
Rupert Murdoch and News Corp chief executive Robert Thomson were also asked in the AGM about News Corp Australia’s decision in May to axe hundreds of jobs and stop the print editions of more than 100 suburban and regional mastheads in Australia as part of a major restructure.
“I would contest the idea there are news deserts in Australia,” Mr Thomson said. “In the fact decision taken, and it was a difficult decision given the prominence of the company, to shift many and most of regional and local papers to digital platforms was indeed to provide Australians with the best of journalism. The imperative was that there be journalists and it be done on a cost efficient platform.”
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