‘Wilfully and ineptly misrepresented’: The Australian calls out The New York Times and Guardian Australia over criticism of its bushfire coverage

News Corp Australia masthead, The Weekend Australian, has published a heated response to commentary regarding its coverage of the bushfire crisis.

The column, which appeared in the paper’s Inquirer section on Saturday and had an author credit of ‘Editorial’, pointed the finger at The New York Times and the Guardian Australia for ‘wilfully and ineptly misrepresent[ing]’ The Australian’s coverage as climate change denial.

“In our coverage, The Australian’s journalists report facts about how to tackle bushfires and about how to deal with the impact of climate change. Second, we host debates reflecting the political division that exists in Australia about how to address climate change without destroying our economy,” the column states.

“However, our factual account of bushfires, climate change and the remedies, as well as our editorial commentary on these issues, have been wilfully and ineptly misrepresented by The New York Times and Guardian Australia as climate denial.”

Some have claimed the Murdoch-owned News Corp press aims to influence political results with its coverage, something it was accused of doing during last year’s May election.

“The truth is that the political and media reaction to this devastating bushfire season is a bid to replay the May election and get a different result. There is a belief that The Australian — having predicted the result — is somehow complicit in driving policies that promote devastating bushfires. This is not only disingenuous but disgraceful,” it said.

On Friday 3 January, The New York Times published an opinion piece titled ‘Australia Is Committing Climate Suicide’, in which its author, Richard Flanagan criticised Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s response to the crisis and the Rupert Murdoch-dominated media landscape.

Meanwhile, the Guardian Australia has been critical of The Australian and the wider News Corp titles, including the critique that they have been downplaying the scale of the bushfires and not dedicating front page space to the crisis.

The column follows the leak of an internal email from News Corp commercial finance manager, Emily Townsend, sent in response to an all-staff email from CEO Michael Miller. Townsend’s email denounced the ‘misinformation’ spread by News Corp titles The Australian, The Daily Telegraph and The Herald Sun regarding climate change and the bushfires.

The email which was widely leaked to the media and onto social media [Click to enlarge]

News Corp provided a statement from Miller in response to the leak, stating: “We respect Ms Townsend’s right to hold her views but we do not agree with them.”

“Our coverage has recognised that Australia is having a serious conversation about climate change and how to respond to it. However, it has also reflected there are a variety of views and opinions about the current fire crisis. The role of arsonists and policies that may have contributed to the spread of fire are, therefore, legitimate stories to report in the public interest,” Miller said.

Saturday’s editorial column also blamed social media for creating a “right-wing conspiracy of climate denialism” and stated that this was interrupting “serious conversation”.

“Right now, social media is driving a campaign of outrage in which an alleged right-wing conspiracy of climate denialism is framed as the key obstacle on the path to a better future. For all the clicks, this represents few people and no constructive ideas,” it stated.

“We should not allow noise to deafen us to this opportunity for a serious conversation. In evacuation centres, in cafes and kitchens, mainstream Australia is ready to talk about how to protect life, natural heritage and property in future bushfire seasons.”

The column also addressed Scott Morrison’s need to “[restore] public confidence and [counter] misinformation”, and Australia’s need to “continue to be a good international citizen by contributing to climate change mitigation”.

The Australian also hit out at “progressive elites” for claiming that reporting on other influences on the bushfires is “climate denialism”.

“It’s become common to denounce as climate denialism any attempt to include non-warming factors in the mosaic of bushfire science. This represents the frail hope of progressive elites that if framed as an absolute moral imperative, climate action will break through and win universal support.”

The column concluded: “Thankfully mainstream Australians are smarter than that.”

Miller said the publisher categorically does not deny climate change.

“Contrary to what some critics have argued, News Corp does not deny climate change or the gravity of its threat. However, we – as is the traditional role of a publisher- do report a variety of views and opinions on this issue and many others that are important in the public discourse on the fires,” said Miller in a statement to Mumbrella.

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