Murdoch Press Coverage of Aussie Carbon Price So Negative in 2011, “It’s Fair to Say They’ve Campaigned Against It”

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"Murdoch Press Coverage of Aussie Carbon Price So Negative in 2011, “It’s Fair to Say They’ve Campaigned Against It”"

The top six newspapers most negative about the Australian government’s carbon policy are all owned by Rupert Murdoch.

I was struck by a recent analysis from Daily Climate showing a substantial drop in the number of stories covering climate change in 2011. In spite of the dramatic increase in extreme weather events and the white-knuckled political tension around government investments in energy, there was still a 20% drop in coverage of climate-related issues last year.

One of the exceptions to that drop, however, was Australia. News outlets like the Australian Broadcasting Corp. and the Sydney Morning Herald saw a 60% increase and a 21% increase respectively. Australia was a particularly important country to watch in 2011 because of the dramatic political battle that unfolded over a comprehensive climate bill.

But experience in that country illustrates a hole in analysis that simply tracks the quantity of articles — it ignores the quality of those stories.

A recent report from the Australian Center for Independent Journalism attempts to fill in that hole. The researchers looked at climate policy stories in 10 major newspapers from February of 2011 through July of 2011 and tracked how positive or negative those stories were, who was quoted, and what kid of language was used. The results were overwhelmingly negative. Here are some highlights:

  • Overall, negative coverage of the Gillard government’s carbon policy across ten newspapers outweighed positive coverage across ten Australian newspapers by 73% to 27%. (Note: After neutral items were discounted).
  • After neutral items were discounted, negative coverage (82%) across News Ltd newspapers far outweighed positive (18%) articles. This indicates a very strong stance against the carbon policy adopted by the company that controls most Australian metropolitan newspapers, and the only general national daily. [Note: This is an organization owned by Rupert Murdoch.]
  • Headlines were less balanced than the actual content of articles. Neutral articles were more likely to be headlined negative (41%) than positive (19%).

In an interview with Climate Progress at the Durban climate talks, Christine Milne, the Deputy Leader of Australia’s Green Party, lamented the domination of negative stories in Murdoch publications:

“The Murdoch press is a very big problem in Australia. It owns 70% of the print media and has run a massive campaign against the climate science and against the climate pricing policy that we’ve delivered in Australia. And it will continue to do so in the hope that the opposition is elected and the whole thing is repealed. This is a critical time in Australian politics and for the climate.”

Remarkably, even though the Green Party provided the political catalyst for getting a climate bill considered in the first place, members of the party only received 5% of quotes in stories on the issue.

When journalists reached out to the business community, which sector got the most quotes? By far, sources directly or indirectly representing the fossil fuel industry, “often without any critique or second source”:

(The researchers also factored the aluminum and steel industries into these figures.)

The range of findings show a clear political bias against the carbon pricing policy moving through parliament in 2011:

  • The claims by many single sources about the likely impact of the carbon policy were not tested against the views of other sources. Only 42% of the rest of the articles included
    more than two sources.
  • Fossil fuel lobby and other big business sources opposed to the policy were very strongly represented, often without any critique or second source.
  • Business sources (23%) receive more coverage than all Australian civil society sources together including unions, NGOS, think tanks, activists, members of the public, religious spokespeople, scientists and academics (17%).
  • Business sources quoted 4 or more times over the 6-month period were quoted being negative towards the policy in almost 80% of occasions. Many Australian readers would have been left with the impression that the nearly the entire business community was opposed to the carbon price policy. In fact this was far from the truth.
  • Academics and scientists were also poorly represented.
  • Over half the articles only used the word ‘tax’ (51%), 11% used ‘price’ and another 39% referred to both. Once again there are differences between Fairfax and News Ltd.’s metropolitan newspapers.

Let me take my last statement back: These findings show far more than a simple “bias.” They show a stunningly blatant attempt to stop a price on carbon. One wonders how political leaders were ever able to pass a climate bill at all.

“Some of Australia’s leading newspapers have been so negative in their reporting of the Gillard government’s carbon policy it’s fair to say they’ve campaigned against it rather than covered it,” reads the primer for the report.  The top six newspapers most negative about the Australian government’s proposed carbon policy are all owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Tracking the raw number of stories focused on climate is an important task. But this kind of qualitative analysis gives us a much fuller picture of how the content of those articles influence the actual story itself.

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23 Responses to Murdoch Press Coverage of Aussie Carbon Price So Negative in 2011, “It’s Fair to Say They’ve Campaigned Against It”

  1. zac spitzer says:

    The Clean Energy Future bills were created by the ALP and the Greens supported this, it’s a huge stretch to say the Greens provided the political catalyst, when it was the ALP which drove the issue and copped all the pain

  2. Stephen Lacey says:

    Hi Zac — Fair enough. But the Greens demanded a climate bill in exchange for the political alliance with Labor after a hung parliament in 2010. I didn’t say they were the ones who drove it through, they were one of the initial catalysts.

    • Brenton Eccles says:

      You cannot say the Greens were the catalysts of Gillard’s price on carbon in any real way when the policy that was passed bears far more resemblance to Labor’s policies on climate than the Greens policies and aims on climate.

  3. Cugel says:

    I can’t say I’m surprised.

    A carbon policy of the type proposed which does not bring on economic apocalypse, and is even a positive experience for substantial numbers of people, is a nightmare prospect for Murdoch and his like – and they realise it’s possible. Lots of money and expertise is going to be flowing in from North America in the hope of stopping it.

    Given that the legislation was even passed, I’m fairly optimistic about this, despite the Murdoch sliming. The old man’s losing his shine, and his grip. Twitter? Oh puhlease …

  4. Jeff Poole says:

    @ Zac Absolute piffle! Remember ‘There will be no carbon tax by any government I lead’ from ALP leader JUlia Gillard?

    Of course the Greens were the catalyst – otherwise we’d have the failure locked in by the previous ALP government under Rudd.

    That we know have something flexible and overseen by an independent body is entirely thanks to the Greens no matter how the tories in the ALP try to spin it.

    • Tim Adams says:

      Piffle yourself Jeff!

      The ALP have advocated a pricing mechanism on Carbon from the get go. You can quote the PM all you like but you would have to have been living under a rock not to know that’s exactly what she was going to do.

      The only reason we have a Carbon Price now is due to the PM and the ALP. The PM is the only one with her butt on the line over this not Brown and not Abbott.

      And let’s not forget that Rudd’s failure was due to the Greens inaction.

      Cheers

      • Anne says:

        Tim,

        for me the crucial question is “what kind of carbon price”? Certainly Rudd advocated a carbon price called the CPRS, but this policy would have been worse than nothing, locking in failure with a $40/ tonne price ceiling for ten years (essentially funding gas for the crucial time period we have for transition, and making it impossible to roll out substantial amounts of renewables with the price incentive) also giving $$$ to trade exposed emissions intensive industries giving huge windfall profits to fossil fuel and aluminium companies.

        Many of us in the grassroots community climate movement in Australia opposed the CPRS from the start, and actively campaigned against it, holding the greens to account to do likewise. When the greens achieved the balance of power in the lower house, they ensured that many of the huge design flaws in the previous policy were changed.

        Well done to Christine Milne and all the other greens parliamentarians. Her triumphant exhaustion is testimony to how hard she and her staffers worked.

        We have many challenges ahead of us, such as to defend and extend the complementary mechanisms that make a carbon price meaningful by supporting renewables, to ensure that no more public money is wasted on underground carbon capture and storage, to ensure that the clean energy fund actually goes to clean energy, to increase public commitment to invest in substantial renewables installations, grid upgrades and power station conversions, to prevent the mass roll out of gas and delegitimise its claim to clean fuel status, exposing the fugitive emissions hiding underneath its facade and more. I invite you to join us in that challenge!

  5. Mark Shapiro says:

    Joe –

    Looks like the the “conservatives” don’t feel they have enough influence and are aiming directly at CAP:

    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0112/71099.html#ixzz1ibfY9BY7

    I guess Murdoch and the poor Koch brothers don’t have enough media influence yet . . .

    (h/t John Cole at Balloon-Juice
    http://www.balloon-juice.com/2012/01/05/a-new-virus-to-be-injected-into-the-public-discourse/

  6. Byron Smith says:

    The Greens were absolutely critical in getting this legislation (a) on the table (b) passed and (c) significantly shaped the content. The ALP under Rudd put any action on pricing carbon onto the backburner after failing to get his earlier package through the Senate three times (thanks partially to Greens blocking it due to it being so watered down). This (in conjunction with a couple of other issues) led fairly rapidly to his losing the leadership to Gillard, who quickly called an election, promised no carbon tax, found herself in a hung parliament and made a deal with the Greens and independents to gain power as minority government. The price was a price on carbon (and a few other things, of course).

  7. mulp says:

    I want to speak for conservatives.

    Unless corporations can legally kill workers, consumers, and your children’s future, there is too much regulation. Let the legal system handle it. Of course, we need tort reform to reduce the cost to corporations defending against frivolous wrongful death suits. Workers need to take individual responsibility for their workplace safety, consumers need to take individual responsibility for the toxins in goods they buy, and future generations need to take responsibility for adapting to the environment nature provides, because corporations are people, and people are completely natural.

    • Chris O'Neill says:

      mulp (I want to speak for conservatives):

      future generations need to take responsibility for adapting to the environment nature provides, and people are completely natural.

      i.e. people are natural, therefore global warming caused by people is provided by nature.

      Do “conservatives” have anyone to speak for them other than nutcases like mulp?

    • Leif says:

      What a crock mulp. Corporations have a long history of getting away with murder. All the way from child labor abuses of earlier times to mine and oil rig pursuit of profits today. From cigarette advertising to mercury and air pollution as we speak. Not to mention the willingness to both ignore and actively fight against environmental constraints that you and I take for granted in our lives as individuals. Now that Corpo-People exist, I say they live by the same rules as “we the people. Learn to play well with their “brothers” come to mind. Others as well.

    • John McCormick says:

      mulp, ironically we need nut-jobs like you to keep reminding us how insidious conservatives see people as collateral damage in their war to get richer. You represent them well.

      Better to have an enemy we recognize clearly.

  8. B Waterhouse says:

    I’m curious to what extent extreme weather in Australia has helped change the political climate so that a carbon tax can be enacted. Is it a significant factor?

    • Merrelyn Emery says:

      B, I conducted a small survey in 2009, mainly in the S.E. and found only 18% total deniers. Extreme weather was certainly one of the factors influencing the majority belief that humans were causing climate change.

      And see Adelady’s comment below. I am sure that if I replicated the survey today, watching Queensland get totally wrecked would have changed a few minds, certainly some of those of the previous fence-sitters, ME

  9. Henry says:

    To be fair, this carbon bill was hugely unpopular with the people of Australia who have sworn to vote Gillard out of office at the next election.
    I wonder if it was worth it for her party?

    • Chris O'Neill says:

      Henry:

      the people of Australia who have sworn to vote Gillard out of office at the next election

      I am a person of Australia. I have not sworn to vote Gillard out of office at the next election. Therefore you are not telling the truth.

  10. B Waterhouse says:

    ABC (American) network news just carried a story linking unusual current US weather to La Niña AND climate change with sound bite from Jeff Masters. Won’t see that on Fox anytime soon.

  11. Vic says:

    “We were the ones who heeded the warnings from our scientists”

    “We were the ones who took action, while the Liberal party delayed and denied.”

    Being in a position to make such statements will be political gold in a climate gone bad. In placing a price on carbon Gillard has won for her party a certain measure of climate street cred. This will provide perhaps a century’s worth of political point scoring opportunities in the years ahead. Absolutely worth it I’d say.
    Doing it now at the height of the Murdochracy will of course mean she cops a few bruises. But watch him teetering and watch the cars floating by.

  12. Rodney E Lever says:

    Only when newspapers and other media start routinely publishing daily CO2 readings in their cities of origin will people begin to realise the truth. They should supplement current readings with those available from the past. Only then will citizens start to comprehend the truth. The facts are there, but the news media seems to deliberately keep us in denial.

  13. adelady says:

    “…extreme weather in Australia has helped change the political climate…”

    Maybe for some. But many need only point to one of our most famous poems referring to Oz as a land of “droughts and flooding rains” to dismiss it as just ‘weather’. http://www.bartleby.com/249/196.html

    Australia may be sunny and we only have snow in a couple of mountain areas, but the weather is often ‘extreme’ by the standards of most Europeans and Americans.

    Though the last lot of floods seems to have made a big impression.

  14. The Murdoch press was rabid and blatantly biased in its attacks on the Labor government in general, not just the carbon tax. Murdoch believes he is the one who will decide who is going to govern Australia and is a bit miffed because he is not getting his way at the moment.
    The carbon tax will be in place well before the next election so there is plenty of time for people to realize just how much the coalition was lying about the impact of the tax. One of the innovative things about the tax was that enough of the money collected is going to be returned to people on lower incomes to ensure that they will not be out of pocket as a result of the tax. The only people who will be out of pocket are those who can easily afford the price increases.