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FIRE WITH FIRE

A NewsCorp employee attacked the “misinformation campaign” of Rupert Murdoch’s empire over Australia’s fires

Smoke rising from Australia's fires on Jan. 4, 2020.
NASA MODIS
Smoke rising from Australia's fires on Jan. 4, 2020.
  • Max de Haldevang
By Max de Haldevang

Geopolitics reporter

Published

Rupert Murdoch’s Australian outlets have committed all manner of sins in their coverage of the country’s devastating bushfires, critics say.

Led by The Australian broadsheet, publications in his News Corp empire have:

  • Falsely claimed the fires are “nothing new.” (A record 4.9 million hectares of New South Wales have been burned, eclipsing the previous highest of 3.5 million in 1974-5.)
  • Falsely peddled the argument that arson is a major contributor to the crisis, including publishing misleading information about the number of arson-related bushfire arrests, and downplayed the role of climate change.
  • Pushed the story off the front pages in favor of picnic races, despite it dominating international news.
  • Claimed environmentalists have deterred authorities from preemptively burning areas in cool periods to stop the fire spreading. (The Australian Greens Party supports the policy.)
  • Defended prime minister Scott Morrison—who shows little concern over climate change—for vacationing in Hawaii as fires blazed, and attacked his critics as “ferals.”

This week, a senior News Corp employee sent an all-staff email calling for the falsehoods to stop. Responding to an email by executive chairman Michael Miller that detailed initiatives to cope with the fires and leave arrangements for staff affected by them, Emily Townsend, a commercial finance manager, wrote: “This does not offset the impact News Corp reporting has had over the last few weeks.”

“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),” she wrote, according to the Guardian. “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.”

Coal-addicted Australia is one of the worst carbon emitters in the G20, despite being seen (pdf) as one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change.

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