News Corp's Sky News Australia CEO Paul Whittaker appearing at a Senate hearing into media diversity

Less than a month ago, the world’s leading climate scientists issued a stark warning: the world is hurtling towards a future where increasingly common and severe fires, droughts and floods threaten our existence. Our only option to reverse the trajectory, the IPCC sixth assessment report’s authors wrote, was to take drastic climate action. 

Viewed through that lens, News Corp’s promise to briefly campaign for an unambitious target of net zero emissions by 2050 is a commitment to lock the world into 1.5 degrees of warming and all the horrors that would entail. 

Far from being a shift from the company’s traditional opposition to climate action, this campaign is further proof that Rupert Murdoch’s empire doesn’t believe the science about the world’s transformation — or doesn’t care. 

On Monday morning, Nine papers reported that News Corp’s metro papers and news channel Sky News Australia would launch a “company-wide campaign promoting the benefits of a carbon-neutral economy as world leaders prepare for a critical climate summit in Glasgow later this year”. The target, even if taken up, would leave the federal government lagging behind the US and UK and drag it in line with many banks, insurers and other companies. 

This report comes as a Senate inquiry into media diversity holds a hearing on Sky News Australia’s suspension from YouTube.

The details of the campaign show it is even smaller than it first appears. News Corp papers and Sky will campaign for two weeks in October. The Australian will be excluded from the campaign, and “dissenting voices” — a euphemism for the staunchest climate change denialists who inhabit many of its top perches — will be expected to “reframe” their arguments. (It remains to be seen how figures such as Rowan Dean will reframe their complete denial of man-made climate change.) Sky’s participation will be limited to a documentary exploring the idea of net zero carbon emissions.

The choice of Joe Hildebrand as the face of the campaign provides some insight into the direction of the campaign, says writer and consultant Ketan Joshi.

“His previous work on climate change does exactly what a centre-right campaign like this would be best at: decrying both sides as ‘hysterical’ while failing to propose anything meaningful or substantial,” he wrote in RenewEconomy. 

During the bushfires of December 2019, the News Corp columnist warned against discussing climate change in the midst of a climate emergency. While Australians were fleeing for their lives, Hildebrand argued that they shouldn’t have to concede much to battle climate change: “We need to find an economic path for Australia that can give working people the same quality of life — or just the capacity to survive day to day — that our abundance of fossil fuels currently offers.” 

The announcement also makes clear that when it comes to climate change News Corp continues to act as more of a player than an impartial observer.

Nine’s Zoe Samios and Rob Harris report that its management briefed the government about the campaign, much like how a government would usually brief a publication about its campaign.

In the inquiry hearing on Monday morning, Sky News’ CEO Paul Whittaker defiantly claimed that News Corp accepts the science: “We don’t deny climate change. The question is what is the solution, and what is the cost?”

The world’s top experts say the solution is immediate action — and the cost is less than the cost of inaction. Anything less — like News Corp’s campaign — is denying the science of how our climate is changing for the worse.

Editors note: this piece has been updated to remove a statement implying that Nine’s reporting on News Corp’s campaign was timed to coincide with the Senate hearing on Monday.