Murdoch and News hose down bushfire criticisms with $10 million cash

Rupert Murdoch and News Corp chief executive Robert Thomson have weighed in to stress the company's role and commitment during Australia's bushfire disaster.

In addition to an "initial" A$5 million corporate donation and another A$4 from Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch and their wives Jerry and Sarah, a total of A$1.72 million is expected from contributions and fundraising efforts by News group companies.

This includes proceeds of metro newspaper and ad sales next Tuesday (and Wednesday's Weekly Times) for which, despite traditionally slack Tuesday sales and much-promoted discounts, A$1 million is hoped for.

The head office moves follow internal and external criticism of News' position on climate change, which has led to top-level denials globally and in Australia.

It flared up again when News' corporate functions commercial finance manager Emily Townsend 'replied all' to a staff email in which News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller outlined ways in which the company had helped support the bushfire-affected communities.

In it she accused News publications of a misinformation campaign to divert attention from climate change - which she said, was "the real issue" - and accused them of "irresponsible, dangerous and damaging" coverage.

Miller replied that while News Corp respected Townsend's views, it did not agree with them, and added that "contrary to what some critics have argued, News Corp does not deny climate change or the gravity of its threat". Instead the publisher was reporting "a variety of views and opinions" on the issue and others.

On Saturday, the Weekend Australian used its first leader (editorial) to answer what it described as "dishonest, desperate and distorted coverage" of its "first-class journalism" by the New York Times and The Guardian. The News masthead's accusation that the papers "wilfully and ineptly misrepresented" its coverage as climate change denial, looked as if it had been worded by a lawyer.

In a week in which big business has worked to publicise their bushfire efforts while promoting their brands, Coca Cola said it would be giving specially-printed Coke cans to firies, and Siemens countered international demonstrations against its decision to honour a contract to supply signalling systems to a new Australian coalmine, by offering to help rebuild bushfire-damaged infrastructure, News might also struggle to be heard were it not for its newsmedia monopoly.

For the record, here's where News contributions are going:

-A$5 million to Australian bushfire relief via charitable organisations benefiting local firefighters, providing emergency services to communities affected by the fires, and participating in the long-term revival of those communities, Rupert Murdoch referring to the company's roots in Australia and "abiding commitment to its people and communities";

-A$2 million each from Rupert and Jerry Murdoch (Australian bushfire relief) and; and Lachlan and Sarah Murdoch (rural relief and recovery);

-about A$1 million from newspaper and advertising sales from January 21 metro editions, and from January 22 Weekly Times (bushfire appeals);

-A$50,000 to the Salvation Army and the Red Cross;

-Up to A$500,000 from News subsidiary Foxtel's "special advertising packages" for its broadcast of Cricket Australia, AFL and NRL bushfire charity events, and February's Fire Fight concert (to assist people and communities);

-A$100,000 donation by Foxtel to the Red Cross;

-undisclosed donation by News-owned REA Group to Red Cross, plus a support package for its customers; and

- US$50,000 (about $72,000) via American Australian Association's 2020 Arts Awards on January 30.

Draw your own conclusions.

Peter Coleman

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