Murdoch empire’s global chief Robert Thomson to front questions at Australian Senate inquiry

By Amanda Meade
News Corp CEO Robert Thomson i
News Corp CEO Robert Thomson is to appear next week before an Australian Senate inquiry into media diversity after Lachlan Murdoch last month turned down a request to appear. Photograph: Mark Lennihan/AP

The global head of Rupert Murdoch’s empire, Robert Thomson, will appear before the media diversity inquiry next week to answer questions about the dominance of News Corp in Australia’s media landscape.

The invitation to front the Senate was accepted by the New York-based Thomson after the co-chairman of News Corp, Lachlan Murdoch, turned down a request to appear last month.

Thomson is expected to be asked about his private meeting with Scott Morrison in New York, also attended by Australia’s ambassador to the US, Arthur Sinodinos, and the consul general in New York, Nick Greiner, and about the strategy behind Mission Zero, a net-zero-emissions push launched by the company’s outlets this week.

The Senate committee chair, Sarah Hanson-Young, said the inquiry had heard extensive evidence about how News Corp’s media dominance in Australia made it a powerful political player.

“News Corp’s attack on those advocating for any climate action over the past decade have played a large role in the lack of climate action we have seen in Australia,” Hanson-Young told Guardian Australia.

“Now, after years of climate denial, News Corp has launched a campaign calling for climate action. This sudden change has come just weeks after Mr Thomson met with PM Scott Morrison in New York, a meeting that seemed to confirm the cosy relationship between Australia’s largest media corporation and our prime minister.

“The committee will have serious questions for Mr Thomson about the organisation’s culture and business model that News Corp employs both in Australia and around the world, given evidence we have heard about the treatment of women, the use of their platforms for character assassination of individuals and the Covid disinformation shared on Sky News that resulted in the broadcaster being banned from YouTube.”

Herald Sun columnist and Sky News presenter Andrew Bolt has hit out at his own company by declaring the Australian editorial campaign to speed up climate action is “rubbish” and the “global warming propaganda” provides political cover for Morrison.

On Monday, all its papers except the Australian launched the major editorial project to “inform Australians about the key environmental and climate issues of our time” in support of net zero emissions by 2050.

“I know I’ve lost the argument,” Bolt said on his Sky News program. “My whole company’s against me. I know that against these huge players, all the big political parties, my own employer, all the media and big media outlets, what am I? Just someone on the sidelines. Someone just howling on the sidelines, but telling you the truth.”

A global-warming sceptic, Bolt says he has been assured by his editors he is free to speak his mind.

Murdoch had been invited to appear before a reconvened Senate inquiry into YouTube’s temporary ban on Sky News Australia for uploading videos in breach of the platform’s Covid misinformation policy.

It is understood Murdoch, who is also executive chairman and CEO of Fox Corporation, told the Senate he had not been in an executive position at the Australian arm of the media company for some 10 years and it would not be appropriate for him to appear as a witness, and suggested Thomson.

The Australian Press Council, which has been the subject of some negative evidence at the hearings, has also been invited to appear at what will be the inquiry’s final public hearings.

Thomson is rarely seen talking about the Australian side of the business, although he does present the financial results, as the company is based in the US.

Sky News Australia’s chief executive, Paul Whittaker, vigorously defended Sky’s right to present a range of views on treatments such as ivermectin at an appearance before the committee last month, which earlier heard from the company’s Australasian chief, Michael Miller.

Murdoch, who splits his time between Los Angeles, New York and Sydney, returned to LA last month to reopen Fox News offices and to celebrate 25 years of Fox News.

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