Do we really have a free press?

Extinction Rebellion has taken a great deal of flack recently, for preventing Rupert Murdoch’s papers from leaving the printers on 3rd September. Much of the argument has concentrated on the assertion that it is anti-democratic to disrupt the free press. But do we really have a free press in this country? 

 Empty newspaper shelves in Sheffield containing XR leaflets. Thanks to Luke for the photo.

Five billionaires control approximately 80% of our media. Rupert Murdoch runs the Times and the Sunday Times, The Sun and the Sun on Sunday. He lives in the States and avoids paying tax in the UK. His papers consistently support the Conservative Party in elections (apart from Scotland where they support the SNP). Murdoch has financial interests in oil, and his News Corporation often spread mistruths about renewable energy. Even his own son, James, has criticised News Corp for downplaying the impact the climate crisis is having, particularly in spreading forest fires in Australia. He and his wife, Kathryn, issued a joint statement directly criticising his father’s businesses for their “ongoing denial” on the issue, which has been reflected in the family’s newspapers, repeatedly casting doubt on the link between the climate emergency and the forest fires. These fires resulted in the death of 2 billion animals. 

Most of our press is anything but “free”. It has continually ignored the climate crisis, and when it has mentioned climate change it has confused and misinformed us about the threat we face. This has delayed the action Governments need to take to prevent us from hurtling towards extinction.   

Rupert Read from Extinction Rebellion said “we caused a tiny disruption, to warn about the vast, permanent disruption that’s coming if humanity doesn’t completely change path. We need to drastically re-localise our world, to protect ourselves against climate-chaos and coronaviruses alike.”

What XR did in Broxbourne, Knowsley and Glasgow was a huge shock to the super-rich tax-exiles who largely control the press. Rupert Murdoch wants you to be angry at XR, while he pretends that global heating is not wrecking our world. 

All three party leaders condemned the XR action, with Kier Starmer the Labour leader saying “the free press is the cornerstone of democracy and we must do all we can to protect it.” Green politicians defended XR, with former MEP Molly Scott-Cato saying “A genuinely free press means one where all views have open access. This is why the Green Party will campaign to restrict ownership so that no individual or company owns more than 20 per cent of a media market”.

After the protest, government briefings proposed classifying XR as an “organised crime group” threatening peaceful protestors with 5 years in prison. The Home Secretary, Priti Patel said: “The very criminals who disrupt our free society must be stopped and together we must all stand firm against the guerilla tactics of Extinction Rebellion.” But Shahrar Ali, Green Party home affairs spokesperson, said: “Patel may not like XR’s tactics but her threat to criminalise them is disproportionate in the extreme. We must fight for the democratic right of all to demonstrate peacefully.” 

Ironically these government threats came in the same week as the Prime Minister proposed the Internal Market Bill, which will break international law. 

In my view, it’s the press barons, not the protestors, who are the criminals. They know that the UN Secretary-General has warned the public that we now face “runaway climate change” and said this is “a direct existential threat”. They know that NASA has revised their forecasts for the ice-free Arctic Ocean from the 2060s to the year 2034, indicating that we are now approaching climate breakdown. They know that Prof Sir David King has warned that billions of people could be killed. And they know that specialists, like Sir David Attenborough, warn we risk the runaway effect within around 20 years, which would cause a collapse in the food supply, which risks the collapse of civilisation.

The press barons are also well aware that MPs have decided that the vast cost of stabilising climate, through yet to be invented negative emissions technologies, must fall upon the young. The Paris COP21 agreement means that the young will have to pay to remove all the CO2 now being emitted and do so between 2050 and 2100. This war on the young is hidden by most media outlets.

Despite knowing that billions of people will be killed unless we make dramatic and immediate cuts to emissions, the press barons lobby relentlessly for the maintenance of high carbon lifestyles, even supporting the expansion of aviation. Their papers incite politicians to deliver policies that will cause mass loss of life and suppress the information the young need to defend themselves against those who will make their future deadly. The press barons are far closer to the definition of “terrorist” than any of the peaceful protestors who were willingly arrested to bring attention to this planetary crisis. 

Here is a video made by those on the protest. Please excuse the strong language which I think is justified in this case. Also see this statement from XR North here.


Five reasons why we don’t have a free press. Open Democracy.

James Murdoch criticises father’s news outlets for climate crisis denial

Rupert Murdoch says ‘no climate change deniers around’ – but his writers prove him wrong

Rupert Read:  One day’s disruption, a tiny price to pay for our future?

XR: “Spine-chilling” and “Stalinist” – Baroness, MPs and former counter-terrorism policeman speak out against reclassifying Extinction Rebellion as serious organised crime

Extinction Rebellion ‘criminals’ threaten UK way of life, says Priti Patel

Alan Storey in Green World: XR printers blockade: How free is our free press?

Priti Patel in the Independent

UK Government formerly warned over lack of Press Freedom by Council of Europe

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