If you thought it was weird to feel a bit warm and fuzzy about one of our two big supermarket giants, Coles, saying nice things supporting the climate fight, and pointing out it expected its media partners to share the same values, you weren’t alone.
The impetus for this was the stunning announcement early in the week that News Corp would now support climate action. Well, sort of, maybe.
Now, the supermarkets are not a greenie’s favourite thing. They sell bulk rubbish for the environment and our bodies. Yet during Covid they’ve acquired the aura of a friendly uncle, supplying a valued link to the outside world and a touch of normality as we once knew it (if you’re in half of the country that’s in lockdown).
In recent times you might have noticed ads by the supermarket giant proclaiming ambitions to zero waste, zero emissions and zero hunger.
So right now was a good time to pull at a few heart strings.
“Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers, 24-hour news channel to champion net zero emissions”, the headline read.
“From October 17, the company will run a two-week campaign that will advocate for a carbon net zero target to be reached by 2050, which is expected to focus heavily on jobs in a decarbonised economy, particularly blue-collar industries such as mining, resources and agriculture.”
Behind the decision was “growing international condemnation and pressure from advertisers over its editorial stance on climate change.”
Much was made of the hypocrisy of this and why we should be nothing but cynical. How, after the Australian bushfires News Corp spoke up for the climate, only to then open the floodgates to online attacks aimed at scientists who were quoted in its stories.
In the UK it pretended to go along with the idea of climate but then argued for delays and dumbing down of actions. Lower targets, slower transitions, anything but effective action.
Ketan Joshi in Renew Economy was fierce about News Corp’s behaviour.
“This isn’t climate change denial: it’s ‘mitigation denial’. That is, a move away from denying the problem exists and towards decrying its solutions as utterly unacceptable. An important part of this performance is pretending to have a moment of having seen the light, but then continuing to commit the same acts of delay as before.”
He quoted writer Sam Knights in an article saying:
“Make no mistake: these newspapers are not your friends. They are not your allies. Their politics are not in any way ecological. They are deeply racist, reactionary, right-wing publications. Their sudden interest in climate change is not to be celebrated – it is a terrifying indication of things to come.”
It reminds us of what we heard was the Putin strategy. Hire a master of theatre, pay groups to be for the regime, and then fund others to be against, then tell everyone what you did and write a detailed textbook on public manipulation.
Nice little toxic export, from Russia, with love. Which seemed to have inspired a few other toxic exports, such as Trump’s fake news disinformation. We note our own PM Scott Morrison might be vying for his own legacy in obfuscation (though of course in a fun kinda scraggy dad sort of way) by intimating he really really would like to name a net zero target by 2050 while selling us down the hellhole to keep the coal fires burning that little bit longer. Because 2050 is way too late now.
In fact the announcement from News Corp was followed with some careful play and interplay of clarification and amplification that seemed to be right in line with the master of theatre tactics: agree but don’t. Sky News boss Paul Whittaker told a Senate hearing that, News Corp would run a documentary in the lead up to COP26 climate talks in Glasgow.
So, a documentary? Only. And why only two weeks? Can you do a campaign for the climate for two weeks then go back to promoting zero action?
So, another con?
But no, there was something different in this announcement. The cynicism might be well placed but we need to remember that the Murdoch empire is primarily focused on wealth and power.
It will play its readers to achieve its fun and games but what’s the point if it can’t attract the advertisers to keep it top of the pile? If companies like Coles threaten to jump ship and other international giants keep attacking its credibility as they have, soon the only readers left will be Murdoch’s anti-vaxxer brigade.
It can’t be much fun ruling the roost if you wake up one day and find the masses you’ve so cleverly cultivated over decades are no more than a bunch of rabble rousers who want to destroy the joint (like they did to Judge Wackner’s Court in The Good Fight).
Journalist and author Margaret Simons says News Corp’s announcement is evidence of wilting power. The Murdoch press can’t always sway an election. she says.
And in the face of the urgent Code Red report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change you’d imagine it’s becoming laughable to deny the planet is already seizing up.
“News Corporation has been heading into an intellectual, financial and even existential dead end,” Simons says.
“Advertisers flinched. The chances of renewing the ageing readership were disappearing. As successive surveys show, the outlets were losing audience trust.”
News Corp will go underground to keep shifting its debate, she reasons.
GetUP! thinks so and says this darkest of empires will embark on “dangerous” online influence, “where it spreads across complex social media networks, and is amplified and exaggerated by people with the most radical anti-climate viewpoints”.
The activist group is now working with “some of the world’s leading experts in online disinformation on an ambitious plan to stymie the spread of the Murdoch Press’ dangerous new editorial stance.” And it’s looking for financial help to do so.
From Margaret Simons’ point of view News Corp could already be losing its grip.
From our point of view, when the money talks, it’s done and dusted.