One of the world’s leading climate scientists has told a senate hearing into Australian media diversity that the Murdoch press has served as a “megaphone” for climate disinformation and has done so to aid the agendas of Donald Trump and Scott Morrison.
Professor Michael E Mann is director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, but spoke to the Australian senate’s media diversity inquiry in a personal capacity on Monday morning.
“The problem here, of course, with climate change in the Murdoch media, is they have worked extremely hard to actually attack the facts and to undermine public faith in factual discourse,” Mann told the hearing.
“They’re not even interested in having an objective debate about policy because they’re too busy trying to distort the public’s understanding of the facts. And that’s true in the United States, and it’s true in Australia as well.”
The senate committee is investigating the current state of media diversity in Australia generally, but has given significant attention to the dominant role of News Corp outlets in some segments of the media and how it as used this dominance for influence.
Mann told the committee that the Murdoch press had amplified climate change disinformation that had been used by both former US president Donald Trump and Australian prime minister Scott Morrison.
“The Murdoch press is substantially to blame for serving as a megaphone of climate disinformation. Disinformation that has provided fodder for an activist politician, like former US President Donald Trump, and the current Australian Prime Minister,” Mann said.
“The Murdoch media have spent decades poisoning both our political and literal atmosphere.”
Mann came to public prominence as a climate scientist after being involved in the publication of the now-famous ‘hockey stick curve’ in 1999, which highlights the global increases in temperature being caused by global warming.
Mann told the inquiry that he had been personally attacked after publishing the research, in Murdoch media led efforts to discredit the science.
“I came into science into the field of science because I love solving problems, I love crunching numbers, I would have been perfectly happy to have been left alone in the laboratory, doing what I love doing,” Mann said. “But when we published the hockey stick curve, and suddenly I was attacked. There were efforts to discredit me as a person and to vilify me, and that sort of pushed me into the public sphere.”
Mann recently spent a year in Australia studying the links between climate change and extreme weather events and was in Australia throughout the devastating 2019-20 summer bushfires.
Mann told the media diversity inquiry that it was “horrifying” to what the way Murdoch owned outlets spread misinformation about the causes of the bushfires.
“As horrifying as it has been to watch these climate change rock disasters play out in Australia,” Mann said. “It has been equally horrifying to watch the pernicious efforts by the Murdoch media to sow disinformation about what is happening.”
“I’m talking specifically about efforts by Murdoch owned papers like the Australian and the Herald Sun to promote thoroughly discredited myths blaming the record fires last year on arson or backburning, or really anything other than the inconvenient true culprit that must not be named if you’re the Murdoch media.”
Mann said that Australia was an “almost unique” media market, given the influence of Murdoch owned newspapers in the country.
“It seems to me that they do get away with violating basic codes of journalism,” Mann said. “Some of the most fundamental principles. When you talk to experts in the journalism field academics, will tell you that accuracy above all else and balance are essential principles in objective media. The News Corp media shows no evidence of either of those things.”
In an earlier session of the inquiry, former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said that Murdoch newspapers had been plotting to destabilise his prime ministership.
According to Turnbull, Murdoch owned news outlets had planned to back the potential return of Tony Abbott as prime minister after bringing about an end to Turnbull’s prime ministership.
“Now, this sounds completely unhinged. And it may well be so. But there’s no doubt that that was being undertaken, and I had a direct conversation with Rupert about it,” Turnbull said.
Turnbull said that Murdoch papers had actively campaigned for Turnbull’s removal as chair of a NSW government advisory body on zero net emissions.
“That sends a message to anybody else that dares to object to the expansion of the coal industry. If you dare to do that, you too can be sort of scarified on the front page of the Telegraph,” Turnbull said.
“They will make stuff up,” Turnbull added. “It’s not news anymore. It’s propaganda, and it has a purpose, and that is to pursue their agenda. Political, environmental, or whatever.”