AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. Rupert Murdoch's News Corp sells an overwhelming majority of all newspapers read in his native land of Australia. He also holds a controlling interest in the leading cable news channel there.
With such control of the media, naturally come concerns of balance, so one journalist turned professor decided to put Australia's papers to the test. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik tells us what she found.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: I pay a visit to an eggshell blue house in the West Sydney neighborhood of Newtown to find the veteran investigative journalist Wendy Bacon and her partner, Chris Nash.
CHRIS NASH: The tree fern in the corner there is Australian and...
FOLKENFLIK: They are identifying for me the Australasian flora in the courtyard of their book-lined home.
WENDY BACON: The coloring which you commented on before is actually Korean.
FOLKENFLIK: And then, Bacon tells me of her research. She had graduate students examine six months' worth of articles, feature pieces, editorials and columns in 10 leading Australian papers on a proposal by the governing Labor Party to levy attacks on carbon emissions.
BACON: What our study showed is that the majority of Australians are not getting a balanced or diverse view on a policy which was designed to, at least in a small way, tackle this problem.
FOLKENFLIK: Seven of those 10 papers are part of Rupert Murdoch's Australian newspaper arm, News Limited. The Murdoch papers are seen as hospitable to those who question the science underlying projections of climate change, from the populist tabloids to the respected, if combative, national newspaper, The Australian - even if the Oz, as it's commonly called, has more nuanced and extensive coverage.
Bacon says she wanted to see if those papers' coverage fit or disproved that anecdotal impression. In her finding, News Limited far surpassed it. Negative articles printed in Murdoch's newspapers about the proposed tax on carbon emissions outweighed positive ones 82 percent to 18.
Bacon says that all adds up to a campaign against a policy rather than tough-minded scrutiny of it, and she says Australians simply weren't getting enough insight about the science or the politics to be able to make informed decisions for themselves.
BACON: If that's happening on that one issue, well, it's certainly happening on other issues.
FOLKENFLIK: The surprising thing is Murdoch himself staked out a different stance for his own company quite publicly five years ago, while talking about below-average rainfall in his hometown of Melbourne and drought in his native Australia. In fact, Murdoch pledged to make his company carbon-neutral over time.
RUPERT MURDOCH: I realize we can't take just one year in one city or even one continent as proof that something unusual is happening. And I'm no scientist, but there are signs around the world and I do know how to assess a risk. Climate change poses clear catastrophic threats. We may not agree on the extent, but we certainly can't afford the risk of inaction.
FOLKENFLIK: Murdoch and his executives and journalists at News Limited declined to be interviewed for this story. A spokesman for News Limited denounced Bacon at the release of her study last year by asserting she lacked credibility and said the company regretted that she was even able to teach college students. This spokesman told the news site The Conversation that the Australian, quote, "believes that humans are warming the planet, but obviously, there is doubt among those who claim otherwise." And he said that a market-based solution should be followed.
The Australian has aggressively opposed the Green Party's agenda of addressing climate change through greater regulation and taxation of pollution. Two years ago, the paper vowed in an editorial that it would seek to destroy the party at the ballot box.
In fall 2010, a former environmental reporter at The Australian, Asa Wahlquist, spoke at an academic conference where she said she fought with editors routinely over the extent and nature of her coverage.
ASA WAHLQUIST: I mean, I couldn't do it anymore, but I hung in there for a long time because I thought it was important that at least I was in there trying.
FOLKENFLIK: Bacon found the most negative coverage in the country's top-selling Murdoch tabloids: the Melbourne Herald Sun and the Sydney Daily Telegraph.
The Herald Sun's Andrew Bolt is said to be the top-read columnist in all Australia, and he's an outright critic of climate change, writing that competing newspapers that treat it as settled science are propagandists.
ANDREW BOLT: With the global temperature now flat for some 15 years, it's time for an honest debate. Was global warming exaggerated? How much have we wasted on false scares?
FOLKENFLIK: This is Bolt from his TV political opinion show on the broadcast Network Ten, which is not owned by News Corp, but happens to have Lachlan Murdoch as chairman, even as he serves as a corporate director of the company his father runs.
BOLT: Let's have a proper, balanced inquiry into the science before we waste billions more.
FOLKENFLIK: The journalists I spoke to in Australia tell me they have a tough time reconciling Murdoch's corporate announcement with the coverage in his papers. Among them, Monica Attard, a former foreign correspondent, host and media critic for the ABC, Australia's public broadcasting network.
MONICA ATTARD: And then we were all left scratching our heads as to what Rupert's missive that News Limited was to become a green company was actually all about, nobody quite understood.
FOLKENFLIK: As it happens, News Corp executive James Murdoch, Rupert's younger son, held his own grand announcement in London last year. News Corp had become a carbon-neutral company.
David Folkenflik, NPR News.