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Sep 24, 2012

The Murdoch paradox: bias in climate reporting

Research has found more than 80% of stories on climate change from selected US News Corp outlets are "misleading" -- and the problem seems to extend to Australia, writes ANU's Simon Copland.

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New research out of the US has provided evidence of the “misleading” reporting of climate change by News Corporation. The report, Is News Corp. Failing Science, written by the Union of Concerned Scientists, looked into representations of climate change at Fox News and The Wall Street Journal over a period of six and 12 months respectively.

In their study, stories were investigated and rated “accurate” or “misleading”. Misleading pieces were defined as those that:

  •   Had a broad dismissal of the scientific evidence that climate change is occurring and is largely due to human activities
  •   Disparaged climate scientists generally or specifically
  •   Disparaged or mocked climate science as a body of knowledge
  •   Cherry-picked individual facts or findings to question overall climate science conclusions
  •   Engaged in debates or conversations in which misleading claims drowned out accurate ones.

Out of 40 mentions of climate change on Fox News, 37 were determined to be misleading, or 93% of stories. The reporting in The Wall Street Journal (researchers looked at the opinion section) was slightly more accurate; 81% of stories were considered misleading. Disparaging the basic fundamentals of the science was the most common approach at both outlets.

This finding brings into stark reality the challenge climate scientists and activists have when it comes to the issue being reported in the media. Anecdotal evidence of misleading reporting on climate change is common, but this report provides evidence. It also shows that climate change reporting goes beyond simply providing “equal sides” to scientists and sceptics. What it shows is that at least when it comes to News Corp, climate change is not even framed as a 50-50 debate, but is shaped by denying the existence of the problem.

The report focuses on News Corp in the US, but has ramifications in Australia. News Limited, the Australian subsidiary of News Corporation, which has 70% of Australia’s newspaper market share, has been criticised for its reporting on climate change. The subject may have come up during Rupert Murdoch’s recent Australian visit.

In Robert Manne’s 2011 Quarterly Essay, “Bad News: Rupert Murdoch’s Australian and the Shaping of a Nation”, he took aim at News Ltd’s reporting on global warming. Manne’s research found The Australian contained a high number of articles from those who denied the science of climate change, while commentary from those who had been published in academic journals on climate science was rare. He summarised this by stating:

“In the real world, scientists accepting the climate consensus view outnumber denialists by more than 99 to one. In the Alice in Wonderland world of [The] Australian, their contributions were outnumbered 10 to one.”

Manne’s research was backed up in November 2011 by Wendy Bacon from the Centre of Independent Journalism and the University of Technology Sydney. Bacon reported that News Ltd had presented highly biased coverage of the federal Government’s carbon pricing package. She stated:

“Negative coverage [of the carbon price] across News Ltd newspapers far outweighed positive coverage with 82% compared to 18% positive articles. This indicates a very strong stance against the carbon policy adopted by the company that controls most Australian metropolitan newspapers, and has 70% of Australian newspaper circulation.”

Bacon’s research found that this coverage was systematic across News Ltd papers, with The Daily Telegraph and The Herald Sun being standouts. Bacon found Fairfax newspapers were more balanced, with 56% of their stories positive and 44% negative.

These realities for News Corp run counter to some of the public posturing of Rupert Murdoch (as well as the internal policies of the company). In 2007 Murdoch stated:

“Now, I realise we can’t take just one year in one city or even one continent as proof that something unusual is happening. And I am no scientist. But there are signs around the world, and I do know how to assess a risk … Climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats. We may not agree on the extent, but we certainly can’t afford the risk of inaction.”

News Corp has also worked extensively to tackle climate change internally. The company has set up a Global Energy Initiative to address the company’s carbon emissions. The GEI website boasts that News Corp’s action on climate change has seen the Carbon Disclosure Project rank the company in the top 5% of companies in the S&P 500 and the top 10% in the Global 500 for action on climate change.

What this report shows however, is that action within, and news coverage from the company, are very different beasts.

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13 comments

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13 thoughts on “The Murdoch paradox: bias in climate reporting

  1. Chad

    Union of Concerned Scientists is a left-wing advocacy group, not a scientific organisation. Anyone can be a member as long as they pay the $35 joining fee. Not a good way to start an article claiming bias in media reporting regarding the source. Though anyone familiar with Simon’s previous articles on the subject can understand his extremist anti-science environmental ideology can be a source of the repeated and deliberate inaccuracies that abound.

    Concerned Scientists (UCS) has manipulated
    the high reputation of “science” to serve the
    low ends of politics. It has done a good job
    of cherry-picking scientific facts to stir up
    public fears to advance its agenda. This time
    it is promoting alarmist claims about global
    warming by leveraging the prestige of the
    “concerned scientist.”

    The group has a long history of being just plain
    wrong on many scientific issues, and its
    current agenda conforms to the extremes of
    environmentalist ideology. Moreover, UCS
    is neither representative of the scientific community
    at large nor is it a gathering of top
    scientists. Instead, a cadre of senior staff
    whose credentials are steeped more in Washington
    policy making than in scientific research
    rides herd over a grassroots membership
    that comes from all walks of life. You too
    can be a Concerned Scientist for a new member
    fee of $35!

    UCS doesn’t focus its attacks on the actual
    work produced by the organizations it targets;
    but instead it tries to discredit its opponents
    using ad hominem innuendo. And
    that’s what gets the attention of the media.
    For instance, when astrophysicist Sallie
    Baliunas determined that the Earth’s temperature
    had actually been warmer at earlier
    times in history—a premise endorsed by a
    National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel—
    UCS ignored the research but attacked the
    researcher personally, noting that Baliunas
    was affiliated with the George C. Marshall
    Institute, which it said had gotten $630,000 in
    ExxonMobil grants for its climate science
    program.

    I look forward to Simon Copland’s next article regarding the bias of alarmist climate change reporting of the ABC, Fairfax, The Guardian, BBC, New York Times and others and also their refusal to publish corrections of misleading articles.

  2. Steve777

    If the Australian’s coverage was unbiased then it would broadly reflect the scientific consensus that Climate Change is happening and that humanity is a significant contributor to it. It would include some contrary viewpoints but it would make it cleat that these views are held by a small minority of scientists working in the area of climate science, just as it would if it was reporting on a biologist who did not believe in evolution or an astrophysicist who believed that UFO sightings are evidence that we are being visited from extra terrestrials.

    Note that the truth of Climate Change is a separate issue from that of what, if anything we should do about it. If the Australian published an opinion piece that made a case against carbon pricing, or one that urged that we should adapt to climate change rather than fight it, or one that made a case that the cure (ETS, Carbon Pricing, whatever) was worse than the disease (this is probably the honest view of many conservatives who have some knowledge of the science), that would not be evidence of bias provided that the science is not misrepresented.

  3. Pinklefty

    Perhaps exposing bias by writing a conspicuously biased article was an attempt at black humour. And I did like the way that the more dubious assertions were carefully “quoted” so that the author could deny personal responsibility if challenged.

    It is also interesting to contemplate how the article would have fared if all the ‘warmist’ and ‘denialist’ entities were reversed. I suspect that it wouldn’t have been printed here at all. If it had been printed there would undoubtedly have been a storm of criticism justly pitched at the conspicuous deficiencies.

    But, to write such an article about BIAS? As a wry joke, I suppose it works. As a serious statement, it’s unworthy of Crikey.

  4. Steve777

    I think that GLJ has got it right. The push on climate science in the Australian is part of News Limited’s campaign to bring about a more politically friendly environment for Corporate Australia (and hence News Limited) by undermining support for action on Climate Change. While the Australian tries to convince waverers in its readership that there’s no problem or that it’s not as big as mainstream science is saying, its tabloid stablemates run scare/disinformation campaigns on the ‘Carbon tax’, ‘Boat People’ and anything else that they think would work with their readership.

    Some conservatives are happy to believe that climate change isn’t happening. Others probably think a return of conservative government is worth a delay of a few years in dealing with it and that they can sort things out once they’re in power. This must be the position of people like Malcolm Turnbull, for example.

  5. klewso

    Take away “using their market share of perception for denigrating the Left – to influence voter perception of fitness to govern” from Limited News, and what have you got left?
    An empty vessel – still making the most noise?

  6. GLJ

    My feeling is that the bias it is less about the science and more about supporting the conservative politics that aligns with climate science denial. By undermining the science with repeated articles it supports the Conservative Liberal view & undermines the Labor government view.
    By undermining the carbon pricing policy it helps the LIB/NAT tilt at government that will reward big business that in turn support the NEWS LTD agenda.
    The science is very secondary and is a mere toll in the armoury.

  7. New Cassandra

    This writer complains New Ltd is biased…..

    Welcome to Polswatch! My name is Simon Copland and I the writer and editor of this blog. Here you can find some info on me and the blog:

    Me:

    My name is Simon Copland and I come from the city of Canberra in Australia. I am currently studying Environmental Science and Development Studies at the Australian National University, although for the year 2009 I will be studying in Uppsala University in Sweden. I have keen interest in the politics of the environment and sustainable development, but also in ‘general’ social and economic policy. I am a self professed left-winger and a member of both the Australian and Swedish Greens and am proud of it. This blog however, does not speak for the Greens in any way.

    Outlining a Progressive Future:

    This blog’s main aim is to provide discussion on the theme ‘outlining a progressive future’; with the aim being to stir debate and discussion on the progress of the left-wing movement and of the options available to create a progressive, left-wing society.

    The blog will do this through discussion in 4 main themes:

    Analysing the left wing movement (i.e. looking at tactics, debates and issues in the movement)
    Analysing and counter-acting the right wing movement
    Noting progress within the left wing movement (i.e. growth in left-wing political parties, growth in the movement), AND
    Discussions of the options available for the world to move forward in a progressive way

    I will also add other discussion topics, which will allow for direction for those who are particularly interested in one topic, such as:

    Political Economy
    Democracy and the State
    Human Rights
    Climate Change and the Environment

    I hope you enjoy it!

    —————————————–
    Give me Andrew Bolt any day thanks.

  8. Wells Ron

    As a new subscriber, I am impressed with your product and feel less concerned about the potential change of ownership of the AGE. I refer to the pronouncements of Jeff Kennet and co. about that papers future. Knowing I have access to other than Murdoch papers’ is very reassuring. I will continue with my Age subscription,as I believe you can’t get too much quality journalism. I am confident I have so with crikey.

  9. Steve777

    In this country the Murdoch media have subordinated the reporting and analysis of news to an agenda of achieving regime change in Australia. It’s not just Climate Change. There have been a number of egregious recent examples of news being twisted or in some cases just made up to support that agenda. Examples from the last few months include:
    * Sale of Cubbie Station headlined ‘Labor sells off the farm to China’ – of course the sale met FIRB guidelines and in any case the Station wasn’t “Labor’s” (meaning the Australian government? the ALP?) to sell. There is possibly some use of the dog whistle here as well.
    * A totally fabricated story linking Carbon Pricing compensation payments to a seasonal rise in poker machine turnover.
    * A story about the head of the European Commission ‘slapping down’ Julia Gillard, when he was in fact responding to a Canadian journalist’s question about comments made by Canada’s PM.
    The Murdoch media, especially the tabloid area, should have zero credibility as a source of news about how the country is travelling.

  10. Frank Campbell

    “when it comes to News Corp, climate change is not even framed as a 50-50 debate, but is shaped by denying the existence of the problem”

    And when it comes to Crikey, the slightest critique of climate catastrophism is excluded from the site. The same bias applies to the many chaotic., contradictory and self-defeating policies spawned by the initial climate panic 2006-2010.

    Crikey’s hypocrisy is on the record, and does progressive politics great harm.

    Justifying militant climate catastrophism by reference to Robert Manne is tautologous. Justifying it by lambasting Fox News is comical: even the Murdoch mafia are embarrassed by Fox Views. Fox is an ideological sewer. It makes The Australian look even-handed.

    As for Bacon’s survey of local Murdoch and Fairfax, saying that a 50-50 positive-negative split on the “carbon price” is somehow fair or balanced is moronic. In terms of public opinion on the tax, Murdoch media reflects that more closely than Fairfax- but so what? What the discrepancy tells us that the more Rightwing papers were more often critical of the carbon tax than the rest. What a surprise. Certainly a bias, but on this subject resulting in a more accurate assessment of a stunningly stupid policy.

  11. Frank Campbell

    “when it comes to News Corp, climate change is not even framed as a 50-50 debate, but is shaped by denying the existence of the problem”

    And when it comes to Crikey, the slightest critique of climate catastrophism is excluded from the site. The same bias applies to the many chaotic., contradictory and self-defeating policies spawned by the initial climate panic 2006-2010.

    Crikey’s hypocrisy is on the record, and does progressive politics great harm.

    Justifying militant climate catastrophism by reference to Robert Manne is tautologous. Justifying it by lambasting Fox News is comical: even the Murdoch mafia are embarrassed by Fox Views. Fox is an ideological sewer. It makes The Australian look even-handed.

    As for Bacon’s survey of local Murdoch and Fairfax, saying that a 50-50 positive-negative split on the “carbon price” is somehow fair or balanced is moronic. In terms of public opinion on the tax, Murdoch media reflects that more closely than Fairfax- but so what? What the discrepancy tells us that the more Rightwing papers were more often critical of the carbon tax than the rest. Certainly a bias, but on this subject resulting in a more accurate assessment of a stunningly stupid policy.

  12. Microseris

    News Ltd abandoned reporting in lieu of opinion dressed up as news to serve the political right. Sadly there seems to be quite a few incapable of identifying the fraud.

  13. klewso

    Let’s face it, when it comes to “climate change”, if it was the “Right sort of conspiracy”, it would get a more sympathetic treatment from Murdoch.
    The fact the Left could be right about this opens the door to the possibility they could be right about other things too!

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