As unprecedented bushfires raged across NSW in early January, and the furore over the climate denial stance of government and its mainstream media backers was rising, a photo of Sydneysider Brad Pedersen lying down out the front of the Sydney News Corp headquarters went viral.
A self-described “humble citizen who just wants to lie in Rupert’s gutter”, Pedersen took the solo protest action at the Holt Street offices in Surry Hills, because the Murdoch press has been lying to the Australian public for decades.
Spurred on by the response to his initial social media splash, Mr Pedersen organised the Murdoch News Corp Lie-In Protest last Friday, which drew an impressive line-up of speakers and supporters, all calling for an end to Murdoch’s media manipulation and monopolisation.
Dissenting voices within
Media ownership concentration in Australia is amongst the highest in the world, with News Corp being the most influential newspaper publisher by a long shot. And just as Morrison copped widespread backlash due to his ongoing climate denial during the bushfires, so too did Murdoch.
Significantly, Rupert’s son, James, spoke out against the family media empire’s promotion of climate denialism. And this came as News Corp was beefing up security at its Sydney headquarters, due to weeks of social media criticism over its coverage of the bushfires and climate in general.
Indeed, News Corp employee Emily Townsend distributed an email amongst Australian staff, in which she called out the corporation over its bushfire crisis “misinformation campaign”, as it focused on arsonists, whilst diverting attention away from the real culprit: changing climate.
The War on Murdoch
Amongst the speakers at last Friday’s lie in were Australian Greens Senator Dr Mehreen Faruqi, NSW Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann and investigative journalist Wendy Bacon. And Mr Pedersen also launched the War on Murdoch campaign at the demonstration.
Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to Mr Pedersen about what led him to lie in Rupert’s gutter, how extensive the media mogul’s global reach actually is, and his thoughts on the line News Corp has taken on the escalating climate crisis.
Firstly, last Friday, you organised a lie-in at the Sydney News Corp office, which involved a group of concerned citizens lying down out the front. Mr Pedersen, what was the turnout like?
There were about 400 people there. It involved very colourful placards. And it involved people from all age groups and from across the political spectrum. There were even some members of the Liberal Party there.
And what did the action symbolise?
We were lying down. And that was bouncing off the original photo I’d taken of me lying on the footpath outside News Corp.
They lie all the time, so why can’t I lie there? There was then a follow-up Facebook post with me lying in the gutter.
Most people were lying down on the road. And it was just a symbolic protest – a satirical one. Why can’t we lie outside News Corp, when they lie all the time?
The bushfire crisis has led to heavy criticism of the Murdoch press’ climate coverage. This backlash has even seen those within the organisation speaking out. How would you describe the News Corp line on changing climate?
Criminal. News Corp has led a global coordinated campaign for almost two decades now to lie about climate science and confuse the public about climate science. It is not just something that happened during these bushfires.
The question that I’m raising is, why? I believe there are financial motivations behind News Corp and Murdoch’s global climate denialism.
News Corp’s finances are concealed. They have sealed accounts that are not open to the public.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there are many millions of dollars pouring into the Cayman Islands or Panama accounts from the fossil fuel barons. And this is propping up News Corp all over the world.
As you’ve mentioned, last Friday was not the first time you’ve conducted a lie-in out the front of the Surry Hills offices. I believe a solo effort resulted in NSW police becoming involved. What happened there?
This idea came to me about a month ago. I thought what a nice symbolic protest it would be to lie outside News Corp’s offices. It’s a peaceful and quite a pointed satirical action.
I just went there one day to suss out the joint. And there was some guy who happened to be walking past and I said, “Can you take a photo of me lying down underneath the News Corp sign?” And that photo went viral. People loved it, and they demanded more action.
So, we decided to have a protest meeting there. And we went back to get some more photos. There was just me, my wife and a young woman working as the photographer.
I again attempted to lie under the logo outside of the News Corp office and within a few minutes we had nine – nine – heavily armed police officers surrounding us and threatening me with arrest.
Even if I took a selfie of myself standing outside News Corp, they were going to deem it as a protest and arrest me. That was after they spent half an hour on the phone, getting legal advice as to what they should do.
There were nine police officers, including the local inspector. They were all quite civilised about it. But, it was a really swift and heavy response. It was very sensitive. And it was very well-connected to the police to have such a call-out.
So, that happened, and we managed to get a couple of photos before the police arrived. And we used them to promote the event.
Last Friday’s action was also the official launch of the global War on Murdoch. As the campaign has an emphasis on being international, can you tell us about what sort of worldwide reach the Murdoch empire has?
I invite anybody to look up News Corp on Wikipedia to see the media assets that it has around the planet. It’s mind bogglingly huge – absolutely enormous.
There’s well over one hundred metropolitan newspapers. Of course, Fox News in America is probably the biggest influence that Murdoch has. There are papers in the UK. The Sun, for instance. It’s the worst tabloid on the planet.
They’ve got movie studios, television, satellite and PR agencies. If you have a look at it, it’s an incredibly long list of assets. Not all are involved in what I would describe as quasi-fascist propaganda, like Fox News and Murdoch in Australia.
No one person should have the power over our information that he has. It’s enormous and he abuses that power.
And lastly, Mr Pedersen, do you foresee a time in the not too distant future when our mainstream media isn’t so dominated by institutions with vested interests?
No, I don’t. There’s too much money to be made in media, in whatever form. There is too much potential for power. So, big powerful lobbies want to control our media. There’s always going to be this battle.
And it’s a very important one for our democracy. We should have a duly free media. And a duly diverse media. Voices like Murdoch should be heard. He should have a right to publish.
But, he shouldn’t have a right to dominate. And our democracies have failed us in allowing this one megacorporation to have such a massive influence.
Particularly, when it’s so morally corrupt, and its business model is so connected to corporations and right-wing parties.
Of course, Fox News is the classic example. Fox News to me is the worst example of the excesses of Murdoch, the abuse of power and the cancer it’s causing on public debate, rational debate and the general cultural life of the United States. It’s a hideous institution.
Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.