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Media ownership and the Rupert Murdoch tipping point?

Rupert Murdoch, 2009

Three years ago Rupert Murdoch was promising to make News Corporation carbon neutral. He implored his staff to personally reduce their footprint, and to be more creative in convincing the world to act too. He created websites specifically to help spread the message about the need to reduce carbon emissions. And he even bought a hybrid car for himself.

Today Quadrant magazine reports what many of us have been speculating behind the scenes: Murdoch has realized the IPCC and the “consensus” are fake.

The Australian has performed best in giving space to sceptics and dissenters but has stuck to the save the planet line in its editorials, some say because Murdoch said so publicly. Yet in a personal communication with Murdoch he indicated his scepticism to me. Last Friday’s editorial moved in the right direction when it called on politicians to question the science used by the IPCC but it has yet to endorse the call for an independent inquiry by a number of Australian scientists.


Rupert Murdoch is unarguably one of the most powerful men on the planet. This is an edited extract of what he said in May 2007 in the first ever global webcast to News Corp’s employees. It’s strong stuff. The whole speech is here, and it’s got detail after detail about how News Corp was acting to reduce its carbon footprint. They were being aggressive, efficient, and effective. If carbon was a problem, Murdoch’s actions would seem unimpeachable. But that’s just it — the job of the free press is not to “convince the world of a policy”, but to inform the world of what’s happening, to report “the news, the whole news, and nothing but the news”.

News Corporation energy initiativeI’m here to tell you about a new initiative we’re undertaking at News, one that will affect us all.Climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats. We may not agree on the extent, but we certainly can’t afford the risk of inaction.We must transform the way we use energy, and of course not only because of climate change…Climate change and energy use are global problems– News Corp is a global company.
Our audiences– hundreds of millions of people on five continents– care about this issue. Three quarters of the American public believes climate change is a serious problem, and in many other countries, developed and developing, the numbers are even higher.

For us, as a media company– this is a chance to deepen our relationships with our viewers, readers, and web users.

The initiative we are launching today will involve every business, every function. It’s not only for our facilities managers or our fleet directors– it’s about how we recruit new employees, how we develop relationships with advertisers and how we design movie sets.

This is all new for us. We have much to learn from others. We studied the example of BSkyB, and we met with non-governmental organizations, with other companies, and with scientific experts.

If we are to connect with our audiences on this issue, we learned that we must first get our own house in order…

Our first step was to measure our emissions of greenhouse gases– our carbon footprint.

Our carbon footprint last year was 641,150 tons. This includes the electricity used in all our operations globally, and any fuels we burned Today, I am announcing our intention to be carbon neutral, across all our businesses, by 2010.

BSkyB has already done this. When all of News Corporation becomes carbon neutral it will have the same impact as turning off the electricity in the city of London for five full days.

…we must do this quickly– the climate will not wait for us.

But becoming carbon neutral is only the beginning. The climate problem will not be solved without mass participation by the general public in countries around the globe.

And that’s where we come in.

We can do something that’s unique, different from just any other company. We can set an example, and we can reach our audiences. Our audience’s carbon footprint is 10,000 times bigger than ours…

That’s the carbon footprint we want to conquer.

And, as you saw in our opening video, this is already happening… news coverage of this issue is increasing, but we can also do some things that are unexpected…

Our advertisers are asking us for ways to reach audiences on this issue.

But if we are genuine, we can change the way the public thinks about these issues.

Now there will always be journalists… including some of ours… who are skeptical, which is natural and healthy. But the debate is shifting from whether climate change is really happening to how to solve it.

I’ve started myself– I bought a hybrid car a few months ago…

I ask each of you to think about how this effort affects your own job, because I am certain it does.
As you discover new ways to save money or connect with your audiences or business partners, you will realize: finding a way to act on climate change is not only good for the planet, and not only good for our business, it will be good for your career.
And it will be great for attracting new talent– dynamic, creative, engaged people who think about the future, not one year ahead, but a generation ahead– exactly the kind of people we need for our company to thrive.

I’m not suggesting that he has been overtly dictating exactly what can and can’t be covered by News Corp. Fox News after all has been a shining light for people with sceptical views. But it can’t be argued that the directive at News Corp was always “News First: Propaganda Second”.

Could it be that Murdoch is simply one of the wiser businessmen–and instead of controlling the editors, he allowed some true freedom of editorial in all his media outlets? Could it be that he then listened to them all and found Fox more convincing?

If so, it’s an example of the free market at work, in money and ideas, and I’m relieved to know it still happens. I’m frustrated that it has taken so long for media outlets to begin to report what was so obvious to anyone who investigated the matter with an unjaundiced eye, and that the world came perilously close to adopting a trading mechanism that was irreversible, massively far-reaching, and potentially gave parasitic financial houses and big government even more power than they already have.

My concern with large media conglomerates is that there is so little competition. When money is created from nothing (and bank loans are virtually foisted upon anyone who glances backwards at a bank), it makes it almost inevitable that large corporates would take over other large corporates — generating these megaglomerates. An economy dominated by a few large companies is a more fragile ecosystem, because it lacks diversity and depth.  The sprawling conglomerates that emerge had to borrow buckets of money to eat their competitors, so the power and influence of their financial backers is enormous.

Companies that ought to expose corruption are owned by organizations that benefit from it.

Companies that ought to have exposed the climate corruption, like Reed Publishing (New Scientist), News Corporation, even Shell Petroleum, are in the end, like almost every corporation, deeply in debt to a string of financial houses–and those financiers, as a class, benefit from a carbon credits trading system.

This applies especially to News Corp. The Murdoch family only own about 30% of the voting stock, barely enough to maintain control. News Corp cannot raise money by issuing more shares, or the Murdoch’s risk losing control of the company. That leaves borrowing as the main means of raising more capital. For a couple of decades News Corp has been growing aggressively by acquisition, fuelled by borrowed money — so it is more beholden to its financiers than most companies.

Where are the news media that are driven by subscriptions first and foremost? Which media outlets are there to serve the public, rather than other entities?  Polls and subscriber numbers count, but realistically, when all our major dailies here in Australia are owned by Murdoch or Fairfax, what choice do we have? Which “other major national daily” would I switch too?

We need a better system of managing our free press. Without the internet, the money-masters would have surely have got their trading system based on nothing but thin air.

It looks like we may have just got lucky, fortunate that one of the megalithic entities is managed by a man willing to let them speak freely, even as he encouraged them to proselytize.

When it comes to exposing the power-brokers of global humanity, I don’t like relying on “luck”.

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