Australia’s Sky News has become a central source of climate science misinformation around the world, gaining popularity among conservative social media influencers and networks, according to a report.
An analysis of a global network of climate science deniers and ‘retarders’ and the content they shared found the News Corp Australia-owned channel was a key ‘content hub’ for ‘influencers, skeptics and selling points”.
The analysis, published by UK think tank Institute for Strategic Dialogue, said Sky News Australia, owned by Rupert Murdoch, has consistently ranked among the best for traction, pushing the partisan views of its hosts and guests to a global audience via social media.
Sky News Australia said it rejected the report’s findings, saying it would ‘continue to encourage debate’ on climate change in its programmes.
The report looked at how antagonistic views to action on climate change are spreading around the world, how content is created and who is influential in spreading these views.
The report states: “Our analysis showed how a small but dedicated community of actors enjoys disproportionate reach and engagement on social media, reaching millions around the world and bolstered by legacy print media, audiovisual and radio.
A failure to stem “online misinformation and disinformation” has allowed junk science, climate retardation and attacks on figures working on the climate crisis to become widespread,” the report said.
He said Sky News Australia and contributors to News Corp’s stable of columnists had formed a “content production and distribution system” that fostered “skepticism about climate science and fear or confusion around mitigation efforts”.
Chris Cooper, director of Purpose, an Australian-based consultancy which works with organizations to increase their impact and which helped carry out analysis for the report, said: “Australia appears to have two significant export industries . One is emissions related to fossil fuel exports and the other is from the content of these prolific media.
He said Sky News Australia now had a “disproportionate contribution to global climate misinformation”. “We see the content being shared through networks of deniers around the world.”
Social media was monetized through algorithms that prioritized “anything outrageous and engaging,” Cooper said, and that meant climate misinformation “reached millions more people than it would otherwise.”
The report claims Sky News Australia has produced its own partisan content through the views of its hosts, and also provides a platform for influencers around the world who are undermining the need for action on the climate crisis.
In one example, a tweet by Canadian climate science denier Patrick Moore – retweeted 16,000 times – promoted a Sky News Australia segment where former host Alan Jones described young climate activists as “selfish, ill-bred little turds signaling virtue”.
Most of the segments, which are regularly edited into shareable videos, are from Sky News Australia’s “after dark” shows.
Sky News Australia host Rita Panahi is identified in the report as a “key amplifier” alongside other personalities around the world.
Analysis showed that before 2017, Sky News Australia posted an average of 25 tweets per month on climate-related issues. But they now average over 100 posts per month, with peaks of up to 300 per month.
Cooper said the aim of the report was to raise awareness of the extent of climate misinformation and disinformation around the world, and the “actors behind it”.
Another goal, he said, was to detail for climate change action advocates how misinformation is spreading across the world.
“No one is against free speech,” Cooper said. “But it’s about the amplification and dissemination of what is clearly disinformation, and that’s the problem.”
Dismissing the report’s findings, a spokesperson for Sky News Australia said: ‘Sky News Australia broadcasts a wide range of views on complex climate issues, including the broadcast of a major documentary coinciding with the conference on climate change in Glasgow which looked at nuclear power. as a possible long-term solution to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.”
“We will continue to encourage debate on the varied and evolving climate-related policies of governments, businesses, scientists and campaign groups.”
The report identified the five most popular sources of content shared between the “retarders”, which were the Daily Mail, the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and the Whatsupwiththat blog.
The report said the Guardian was “anomalous in this section, in that the stories shared were not themselves misleading or warranted fact checks, but were nonetheless used to support opposition attack lines. selecting data or adopting a “culture wars” framework.
The report identified key “delay talk” being used to undermine action on the climate crisis, particularly ahead of and during the UN climate talks in Glasgow in 2021.
These included attacks on “unreliable renewable energy” or the alleged inefficiency of electric vehicles. Other popular themes were singling out major emitters – often China – and using their high emissions to absolve other countries of the need to act, or arguing that climate action advocates were wealthy elites and were part of a “New World Order”.
More broadly, the report says climate change denial and attacks on renewable energy often coexist with anti-trans and anti-lockdown sentiments, as well as misinformation about the pandemic.