Q+A: Malcolm Turnbull clashes with News Corp's Paul Kelly over climate coverage

Former PM says Murdoch media has become ‘pure propaganda’ and is doing enormous damage to the world’s ability to respond to climate change

Malcolm Turnbull says News Corp has become an organisation for “pure propaganda” that has done enormous damage through its promotion of climate change denial.

In a heated exchange on Monday night’s Q+A, the former prime minister and the Australian’s editor-at-large, Paul Kelly, clashed over the media organisation’s treatment of climate science.

Turnbull told the program that News Corp had gone from being an organisation that “tended to lean more right than left to become pure propaganda”.

“The campaign on climate denial is just staggering and has done enormous damage to the world, to the global need to address global warming,” he said.

“I mean, it is so horrifically biased and such propaganda that Rupert’s own son James can’t stomach it.”

Kelly responded, saying Australia had many other publications and news outlets that were dedicated to “promoting the cause of climate change and radical action on climate change”.

“It’s OK to be a propagandist for one side, but if one is a critic or sceptic about some of these issues, that’s not OK?”

Turnbull, who has backed an e-petition initiated by the former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd calling for a royal commission into the Murdoch media, said Kelly’s response highlighted the problem with News Corp’s coverage of the climate crisis.

Paul Kelly
Paul Kelly: ‘It’s OK to be a propagandist for one side, but if one is a critic or sceptic about some of these issues, that’s not OK?’ Photograph: ABC TV

He said the media giant had delayed global action to address climate change by turning scientific fact into an issue of “values or identity” and countries were “paying the price”.

“You know, we had 12m hectares of our country burnt last summer, and your newspapers were saying it was all the consequence of some arsonists,” Turnbull said. “And James Murdoch was so disgusted, he disassociated himself from the family business.

“How offensive, how biased, how destructive does it have to be, Paul, before you will say – one of our greatest writers and journalists – ‘It’s enough, I’m out of it’?”

Kelly responded by telling the former prime minister not to lecture him.

“Your problem was with the right wing of the Liberal party,” Kelly said. “At the end of the day, you failed to manage it properly.

“Now, I understand you being upset about our company. But essentially, what you’re doing is you’re transferring your own political failures and wishing to blame our company for them.”

News Corp on Tuesday accused Turnbull of making a “false assertion” when he said its newspapers blamed the bushfires on arson.

“This unsubstantiated statement is blatantly untrue,” News Corp said in a statement. The news organisation said its main newspapers published 3,335 stories about the bushfires between September 2019 and January 23 this year.

“Only 3.4 per cent mentioned ‘arson’ or ‘arsonists’. In this same period, news.com.au also published more than 300 bushfire stories, of which only 16 mentioned arson, equivalent to 5 per cent. Not one of these small number of stories stated the bushfires were ‘all the consequence’ of arsonists.”

Rudd’s petition was tabled in parliament on Monday with more than 500,000 signatures.


Lisa Cox

The GuardianTramp

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