FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES JAN 8
How Rupert Murdoch Is Influencing Australia’s Bushfire Debate
By Damien Cave Jan 8 2020 New York Times
WOMBEYAN CAVES, Australia — Deep in the burning forests south of Sydney this week, volunteer firefighters were clearing a track through the woods, hoping to hold back a nearby blaze, when one of them shouted over the crunching of bulldozers.
“Don’t take photos of any trees coming down,” he said. “The greenies will get a hold of it, and it’ll all be over.”
The idea that “greenies” or environmentalists would oppose measures to prevent fires from ravaging homes and lives is simply false. But the comment reflects a narrative that’s been promoted for months by conservative Australian media outlets, especially the influential newspapers and television stations owned by Rupert Murdoch.
And it’s far from the only Murdoch-fueled claim making the rounds. His standard-bearing national newspaper, The Australian, has also repeatedly argued that this year’s fires are no worse than those of the past — not true, scientists say, noting that 12 million acres have burned so far, with 2019 alone scorching more of New South Wales than the previous 15 years combined.
And on Wednesday, Mr. Murdoch’s News Corp, the largest media company in Australia, was found to be part of another wave of misinformation. An independent study found online bots and trolls exaggerating the role of arson in the fires, at the same time that an article in The Australian making similar assertions became the most popular offering on the newspaper’s website.
It’s all part of what critics see as a relentless effort led by the powerful media outlet to do what it has also done in the United States and Britain — shift blame to the left, protect conservative leaders and divert attention from climate change.
“It’s really reckless and extremely harmful,” said Joëlle Gergis, an award-winning climate scientist at the Australian National University. “It’s insidious because it grows. Once you plant those seeds of doubt, it stops an important conversation from taking place.”
News Corp denied playing such a role. “Our coverage has recognized Australia is having a conversation about climate change and how to respond to it,” the company said in an email. “The role of arsonists and policies that may have contributed to the spread of fire are, however, legitimate stories to report in the public interest.”
Yet, for many critics, the Murdoch approach suddenly looks dangerous. They are increasingly connecting News Corp to the spread of misinformation and the government’s lackluster response to the fires. They argue that the company and the coalition led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison are responsible — together, as a team — for the failure to protect a country that scientists say is more vulnerable to climate change than any other developed nation.
Editors and columnists for News Corp were among the loudest defenders of Mr. Morrison after he faced blowback for vacationing in Hawaii as the worst of the fire season kicked off in December.
In late December, the Oz, as the News Corp-owned paper is known here, heavily promoted an interview with the government’s energy minister, Angus Taylor, warning that “top-down” pressure from the United Nations to address climate change would fail — followed by an opinion piece from Mr. Taylor on New Year’s Eve.
Other News Corp outlets followed a similar playbook. Melbourne’s Herald Sun, for example, pushed news of the bushfires to Page 4 on New Year’s Eve, even as they threatened to devastate towns nearby and push thick smoke into the city.
Days later, residents in a town nearly flattened by the fires heckled and snubbed Mr. Morrison during a visit to assess the damage. A new hire for Mr. Murdoch’s Sky News channel, Chris Smith, branded them “ferals” — slang for unkempt country hobos.
As is often the case at Murdoch outlets around the world, there have been exceptions to the company line — an article about the Australian golfer Greg Norman’s declaration that “there is climate change taking place”; an interview with an international expert who explained why this year’s fires are unique.
But a search for “climate change” in the main Murdoch outlets mostly yields stories condemning protesters who demand more aggressive action from the government; editorials arguing against “radical climate change policy”; and opinion columns emphasizing the need for more backburning to control fires — if only the left-wing greenies would allow it to happen.
The Australian Greens party has made clear that it supports such hazard-reduction burns, issuing a statement online saying so.
Climate scientists do acknowledge that there is room for improvement when it comes to burning the branches and dead trees on the ground that can fuel fires. But they also say that no amount of preventive burning will offset the impact of rising temperatures that accelerate evaporation, dry out land and make already-arid Australia a tinderbox.
Even fire officials report that most of the off-season burns they want to do are hindered not by land-use laws but by weather — including the lengthier fire season and more extreme precipitation in winter that scientists attribute to climate change.
Still, the Murdoch outlets continue to resist. “On a dry continent prone to deadly bushfires for centuries, fuel reduction through controlled burning is vital,” said an editorial published Thursday in The Australian. It went on to add: “Changes to climate change policy, however, would have no immediate impact on bushfires” — a stance that fits hand in glove with government officials’ frequent dismissals of the “bogey man of climate change.”
It’s that echoing between officialdom and Murdoch media that has many people so concerned.
“Leaders should be held to account and they should be held to account by the media,” said Penny D. Sackett, a physicist, astronomer and former chief scientist for Australia.
Timothy Graham, a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology who conducted the study of Twitter accounts exaggerating the role of arson in Australia’s fires, said media companies also needed to be cognizant of the disinformation ecosystem and stop contributing to the problem. That includes mainstream outlets, like ABC News, sharing inaccurate maps that exaggerate the reach of the fires.
But in the case of the arson issue, he said, scores of bots and trolls — many of which previously posted support for President Trump — have joined conservative media like the Murdoch outlets in promoting the idea that Australia’s fires are not a “climate emergency” but an “arson emergency.”
“Maybe 3 to 5 percent of fires could be attributed to arson, that’s what scientists tell us — nevertheless, media outlets, especially those that tend to be partisan, jump on that,” Dr. Graham said.
Of course, it is often hard to know just how much influence any media company has. Gerard Henderson, a columnist for The Australian, said he didn’t think there was much need to address climate change because it was already a focal point across the rest of the media.
“It’s hard to distract from climate change because it’s spoken about constantly,” he said.
But there are signs that the Murdoch message is making headway — at least in terms of what people make a priority. Many firefighters working the smoky hills south of Sydney hesitated to state their views on climate change this week (some said senior leaders had told them to avoid the issue). But they were quick to argue for more backburning.
Similarly, in Bairnsdale, Tina Moon, whose farm was devastated by the fires, said she was mostly furious about the government’s failure to clear the land around her property.
“I don’t think it’s climate change,” she said.
It’s all part of what critics see as a relentless effort led by the powerful media outlet to do what it has also done in the United States and Britain — shift blame to the left, protect conservative leaders and divert attention from climate change.
Canberra author of Little One and Son of Mine Pete Papathanasiou has had opinion pieces on the bushfires published in the Chicago Tribune and the Toronta STAR
Dispatch from Canberra, Australia, where the air is thick with toxic smoke, politics and climate debates
Greetings from Canberra, Australia’s capital city. Surrounded by native bushland and replete with parks and greenery, we are normally a picture of health and vitality, of cleanliness and purity. But since the beginning of 2020, we have the unenviable honor of being the world’s most polluted city.
Located in Australia’s southeastern corner, Canberra is deep within Australia’s most catastrophic bushfire zone. For the last six weeks, Canberra has had fires burning to the north near Sydney’s Blue Mountains, and to the east on the New South Wales South Coast. And now, with temperatures forecast to hit 42 degrees Celsius (107 degrees Fahrenheit) and high winds, the fires are massing to the south and west, creeping up from the Snowy Mountains. Our small city is surrounded, and people are worried. More than worried in fact, given the memory of the deadly 2003 bushfires still fresh in mind. People are prepping and taking drastic measures in case the situation escalates.Editorial: Australia burns as the planet bakes »
As the father to three young sons ages 4, 2, and 5 months, and the son to a mother who is 89, I find myself caught in the middle, caring for those most susceptible to the hazardous bushfire smoke. The ultrafine particles lodge in their vulnerable lungs and make breathing difficult. Mum’s eyes sting, her throat burns, her voice is hoarse. Both she and her grandsons have been confined indoors during this time, which is especially frustrating for energetic young boys who want to play outside. All I can do is apologize to them and find another board game or picture book or stream another cartoon show.
During the month of December, I was glued to the particulate matter readings of Canberra’s Air Quality Index, or AQI, that are reported hourly from three measuring stations. Hazardous air quality is considered 200 or above. In this period, Canberra’s air quality exceeded 200 on at least nine occasions, with the highest reading of 1,413 on Dec. 21. It was around this time that hardware stores across town sold out of P2/N95 particulate filter masks. Only these could offer protection from the toxic bushfire particles in the air.
And then, on New Year’s Eve, the NSW South Coast bushfires flared disastrously. Located 90 minutes to the east of the capital, this is normally the region where much of Canberra spends its summer holidays, so the sleepy coastal towns and idyllic beaches were at their busiest. At 8 p.m. on Jan. 1, following a day’s worth of wind, Canberra’s AQI hit the terrifying mark of 5,185. This is 25 times worse than what is considered hazardous and earned our city of 400,000 residents the undesirable distinction of being the world’s most polluted city, surpassing such metropolises as Delhi (population 30 million) and Kolkata (15 million) in India, Lahore (10 million) in Pakistan, and Shenyang (7 million) in China.
Such dirty air has created an eerie end-of-world feeling in what is normally rated as Australia’s most livable city ahead of overcrowded Sydney and Melbourne. The streets are deserted. Public pools and major tourist attractions have closed. Sporting events have been postponed. Department stores sold out of air purifiers. Businesses suspended trading. Such was the level of concern that the Australia postal service stopped all deliveries to Canberra to protect their outdoor workers from the toxic air. So much for those who had ordered P2/N95 masks in the mail.
With fires still burning, a political debate raged alongside. The Australian government remains enamored with coal as its primary source of energy production. The 2020 Climate Change Performance Index recently ranked Australia worst of 57 countries on climate change policy. When the bushfires were increasing in intensity before Christmas, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison went on a family holiday to Hawaii. After the new year, he visited devastated bushfire zones, but some residents refused to shake his hand.
With the NSW South Coast being evacuated, a wave of “climate refugees” began arriving in already-strained Canberra. Long queues formed at petrol stations, supermarkets sold out of bottled water, bank ATMs were emptied of cash. I was soon receiving messages from friends outlining their prepping arrangements: “We have seven days of food and water, both cars fully fueled plus an extra 50 liters in jerrycans, a thousand in cash, torches, batteries, radio, firefighting gear, and go-bags packed.” It was enough to scare the living daylights out of me.
Eyeing the smoke cloud sitting dolorous and heavy from our living room window, and watching the TV news channel for regular updates, I would explain it all to my sons as best as I could, and silently apologize for the future we’re leaving them. Theirs, hopefully, will be the generation to properly tackle climate change since all ours could do was squabble as to its existence.
As a result of relentless NSW bushfires we have some seriously deady air here in the capital.
The official reading has been rated as “the worst in the world”. The IQAir AirVisual website, which collates air quality information globally, ranked the nation’s capital above “the likes of Kolkata and Delhi in India”.
Many Canberrans have opted to wear a facemask when venturing out. There was a long queue of locals outside a suburban building supply company at 7am today wanting to stock up on heavy duty face masks which had already run dry at Bunnings and other retail outlets. But things get serious tomorrow (Sat Jan 4) when the temperature is predicted to reach 42 degrees and stong winds are forecast.
Chief Minister Barr has declared a “state of alert” as a “precaution” in the event of a local bushfire threat
For most of the year Canberrans, like many in other parts of Australia have staged rallies protesting the inaction of the LNP government on climate change.
Canberran Emily who suffers from a chest complaint is very concerned and frightened about the quality of the air, described the recent days as “apocalyptic and just foreshadowing how much we have let go in terms of what we really value”.
The last time I heard the word emasculated in a radio station was over 30 years ago. And I had to consult a dictionary. An enterprising PD (Program Director for Millenials) at the then chronically under-resourced 7AD Devonport swapped some unwanted record stock for a record player for the station’s library. But when the branded vinyl began popping up at a second hand store a member of the family which owned the network was most unimpressed with the “emasculation” of the station’s music library.
According to a few industry experts the once rightwing Sydney based broadcasting powerhouse 2GB has also been emasculated. But the alleged neutering is not in the station’s record library. It’s its raison d’etre , its talkers.
2GB, now part of the rebranded Nine media family which includes the perennial Melbourne ratings dominator 3AW, has apparently become burdened by the weight of relentless rightwing ranting, to the extent that the new owners are ‘re-positioning’ the station in order to attract a younger female audience.
Recovering night-time rightwing ranter/infomercial wizard Steve Price, who recently replaced the punted afternoon lightweight loudmouth Chris Smith, was quickly punted himself. Price is to be replaced in 2020 by Deb Knight, freshly punted herself from Nine’s Today breakfast TV settee.
Meanwhile, down south at 3AW the inoffensive former Young Talent Timer Denis Walter was “reclocated” from his longtime afternoon slot to nights to make way for another female presenter Dee Dee Dunleavy in 2020.
Will the “emasculation” of commercial talk radio be successful? Not at 2GB at least and 3AW is a vastly different beast. As different to 2GB as Melbourne is to Sydney.
One longtime Sydney talk radio insider is not optimistic about ratings sucess with the new touch, suggesting “nice doesn’t get numbers “.
People listen to 2GB for the hate it radiates. Melbournians have been accustomed to 3AW’s balanced, intelligent and quality talk back broadcasting for decades and don’t seem to have a problem with “ladies” on the wireless.
Already 2GB’s Ray Hadley, diligently striving to project himself as a softer, kinder human being after one too many bullying incidents, is losing audience share. The former racecaller ended 2018 with a healthy 17.9% share of the Sydney mob. But ended this year with a much softer 13.8%.
And the unchallenged headmaster of the school of shockjocks Alan Jones spent most of 2019 witnessing his once almost 20% audience share vapourise. He also has the humiliating, for him, “one more slip of your acid tongue and you’re out” caveat hanging over his head.
While 3AW’s numbers appear to be stable, putting a stockinged ‘sock in it’ at 2GB is going to be problematic and radically recalibrating the right wing ranting richter scale will be tricky.
FROM Canberra CIty News Jan 2011
GOOD Morning… it’s Jorian Gardner filling in for Mark Parton and Mike Welsh over summer on the Breakfast and Drive shows on Talking Canberra 1206 2CC.
Today on the program… the third spear carrier to the left in a new amateur production of “Cats” will join us; the homeless guy who lives outside the Canberra Centre – what are his political views? And, don’t miss this one, but I will have live in the studio today – that’s right LIVE! – an exclusive with that guy who washes your windscreens whether you like it or not on the corner of Northbourne and Wakefield Avenues in Dickson. An interview not to miss!
Ahh, summer. While the big guns get to retire to their summer homes down the coast or somewhere in Europe, it’s yours truly who’s left to carry the can and provide the good people of the national capital with quality talkback.
But you all know Canberra don’t you? It’s a veritable ghost town from just before Christmas to basically the end of January – which just happens to coincide with when I am on air.
Pollies, business people and pretty much anyone with a life (obviously, that’s not me) clear out of the capital for summer, leaving me with a roster of guests that’s about as long as the list of friends of Kyle Sandilands!
But fear not talkback lovers – I relish a challenge, and while everyone else might be in holiday mode, I will be scouring the news and getting the guests on that matter.
It’s lonely at 3.30am in the studio, especially in the Silly Season when interview subjects are either hung-over or still drinking. But necessity is certainly the mother of invention and no topic is too large – or for that matter too small – for me to tackle, so expect some, ummm, “surprising” guests.
“Welcome to the program Guido the office cleaner, who’s going to tell us, for the next hour, how recycling really works!”
But seriously, I am not worried about summer on 2CC, there will be still be great interviews, music, comedy and news and more. The season gives me more time to spend talking with the people who do matter – my listeners.
The stark, and unfortunate, reality of an Australian summer is that there will be bushfires and floods and accidents and all manner of tragedy that the media will report on.
But let’s really hope you are listening to me interviewing that third spear carrier from the left, because that will mean that those horrible summer catastrophes aren’t happening.
Originally published in 2018
OPPOSITION LEADER BILL SHORTEN WILL NEVER BE PRIME MINISTER, IF A LITTLE KNOWN BUT FATAL POLITICAL CURSE STILL EXISTS.
For two weeks in April 2006 the then trade unionist embedded himself in the nation’s psyche from the top of a gold mine in Beaconsfield Tasmania as international media broadcast the gripping story of two miners trapped below.
Returning to the Apple Isle to campaign for the July 28 by-election in the seat of Braddon Shorten was seriously rebuffed after only 30 locals attended a Devonport chamber of commerce sponsored “working lunch” on July 4. What Bill, or his advisers ignored was the “Devonport curse”. If Devonport rejects you, you are toast.
It was in the coastal port hub on Melbourne Cup day 1984 that the curse first materialised. Then federal opposition leader and conservative pin-up boy Andrew Peacock, dropped in to campaign for the Dec 1 federal poll before flying back to Melbourne to watch the big two miler at Flemington.
I was the mid-morning announcer on radio 7AD and the “Kooyong Colt” was scheduled for a 10 am in-studio chat.
By the time Peacock entered the studio he was 25 mins late and livid. In a huddle with advisers a frustrated Peacock muttered the F word several times- thankfully not on air-but not detected by the 30 strong media pack which had crammed into the antiquated 7AD studios. The source of Peacock’s fit of pique was also the reason for his tardiness. In the Rooke St Mall below, party flunkies had frantically but unsuccessfully searched for a local who either recognised the man who was heading for the Lodge or was prepared to participate in a photo opportunity.
On air I urged callers to “keep their questions short” as our guest had “a horse race to get to”. A member of the traveling media pack joked in the Australian the following day that “Announcer Mike Welsh needed not to have bothered with a brevity plea to open line callers as there were none”.
Whether that part of the nation which is stopped by a race had already downed tools, or the people of Devonport had decided Peacock’s birthright to rule was dead in the water, is unclear but Black Knight won the cup and in less than a month Bob Hawke was re-elected Prime Minister. Opposition leaders curse or coincidence?
“ Bounding through the bush, knife drawn, in pursuit of an angry and unpredictable boar; Gary Abblett became a blur amid the trees moving expertly across uneven terrain. Such was his strength and primal instincts” …….“Playing God” The Rise and Fall of Gary Abblett. (Garry Linnell)
Pretty impressive story ???. Well I thought so, that is until I heard the story about a girl I know doing something very similar. What if I told you she is ……”Feminine, petite, slight and gentle, less than 162 cm tall and weighing 50kgs- the size of your average Feral Pig”?
And Abblett was one described by Journalist Andrew Rule thus …..“ knotted muscles and raw bones…. thighs like turkey drumsticks, his neck buttressed with a sloping ridge of muscle that links long, powerful arms. Like a silverback gorilla…”.
The difference is our heroine was not among of a bunch of hairy males packed into an old ute hunting Feral pigs for sport. Hearing the familiar but frightening noise of a wild pig and hunting dog locked in a stand-off, she was forced to engage a dormant primal instinct in order to protect an animal (the hunting dog she loved) from certain death.
One of her husband’s hunting dogs had escaped its compound and had cornered a wild pig behind a 2 metre high fence at the back of the small acreage the family shared on the outskirts of a rural village.
Unable to see exactly what was going on she knew she must act and quickly.
She rang her husband at work who told her that she MUST KILL THE PIG.
If the frenzied stalemate continued the hunting dog would eventually die from exhaustion as its instinct is not to retreat.
Most us with little or no WPS (wild pig slaying) experience on our CVs would respond to the PIG MUST BE KILLED directive similarly…. “now, let me get this straight…. You want me to go down there and place myself in the mix of a Wild Pig (of unspecified proportions) locked in mortal combat with a dog trained to kill or die in the process …and…. What’s that other thing you said?….I must pierce the wild pig’s heart with a knife.. “ Too Easy….
Without question or alarm, she quickly secured her children in the house, mounted a quad bike and, with a dog lead wrapped around her waist (for the return trip with hopefully a living dog attached), armed herself with a knife (I’d like to say clenched between her teeth but probably not) specifically designed for WPS and juggling her mobile phone on which her husband was giving clear instructions, she level- headedly headed in the direction of the unfolding massacre she and she alone had to bring to an end.
Even though she had never killed a living thing, she simply knew what she had to do.
She was calm and considered and motivated by the task of saving the life of her favourite dog.
“the hunting dog was old and my favourite and I didn’t want him to die”
For the record, our rookie pig slayer had witnessed the method by which an experienced pig hunter permanently disabled a WP during a rare hunting trip with her husband. But before she landed the fatal blow there was just one other, small detail to be addressed. With the clock ticking another skill had to be acquired before she brought about the demise of the WP and saved her favourite dog.
Top of the agenda: Disengage WP from the contest without, of course, allowing it to turn on her. It turns out WP weighed in at about the same number at which she tipped the scales.
The trick to incapacitating WP: Grab it by the hind legs and tip it over on its back. THEN you plunge your knife into its heart. Too Easy. But after one failed attempt at “flipping” the WP –which one would suspect was getting crankier and more dangerous by this point- she was forced to retreat to the relative safety of the high fence atop of which was a mobile phone broadcasting precise instructions for her to “kill”.
Oh and did I mention our woman on a mission had been to the gym and was still kitted out in her tights and whatever else one wears to the gym?
Just imagine the confusion of the combatants in the violent skirmish when Lorna Jane in full kit suddenly leaps into the fray, instead of usual John Rambo in fatigues, and competently delivers the fatal blow to end the savagery.
What happened then? Splattered with pig blood and dog spittle, her first pig kill under her belt, she calmly put an exhausted but grateful, feral pig hunting dog on the back of the Quad and headed back to the house.
In the hours following her courageous intervention, this young woman, who’s probably never heard of the footy champion they still call GOD , simply got on with the more mundane tasks of running a family. She could, however, legitimately boast similar pig slaying prowess to the Geelong legend. But my guess is she didn’t.