Prime Minister Scott Morrison discussed the Glasgow climate summit, China and the Biden administration with News Corp executives in New York last month, the company’s global boss has told a Senate inquiry.
Appearing before a Senate probe into media diversity via video link on Friday, News Corp’s global chief executive Robert Thomson revealed he spoke with the PM about international affairs over “after-dinner drinks”.
Mr Morrison was in New York to represent Australia at United Nations’ talks.
Mr Thomson told the inquiry on Friday he presumed the PM wanted to meet because he knew “many” world leaders attending the UN summit.
“I had presumed he wanted some insight about some foreign policy matters,” Mr Thomson said.
Mr Thomson confirmed Mr Morrison didn’t meet News chairman Rupert Murdoch while in New York. He also claimed there was no discussion of the looming federal election.
Mr Thomson said the Glasgow summit came up “in passing” between the pair, but they didn’t talk about News Corp’s planned 16-page net-zero spread across its Australian publications, which has ignited a firestorm of criticism Down Under.
The main topics of discussion were Japan, China, Afghanistan and the “contours” of the Biden administration, Mr Thomson told the inquiry.
“The Prime Minister and I don’t necessarily agree on China,” he said.
Mr Thomson was also asked by Labor senator Kim Carr about whether News Corp directed local editors to take positions on political issues.
Mr Thomson said News Corp’s New York executives had no involvement in recent features on net-zero carbon emissions and that its Australian editors weren’t told from the US what to write.
But he said the company did expect editors to operate within a certain philosophical framework.
“As a company, we have a philosophy about certain issues,” he said.
“We have a philosophy about individual freedom, about the role of the market, about the size of government.”
Mr Thomson said that – as a former editor – he had “discussions” with News Corp’s editors, but that they had a “large amount of local autonomy”.
Senator Carr and the inquiry’s chair, Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, grilled the News Corp executive on the publisher’s track record on climate, accusing its Australian papers of platforming climate deniers for more than a decade.
But Mr Thomson said News Corp has been consistent on climate dating as far back as 2004, citing Mr Murdoch’s 2006 statement that the “planet deserves the benefit of the doubt”.
News Corp Australia has just finished a two-week campaign of climate coverage that included its major Australian mastheads running 16-page spreads about net-zero emissions.
The series had many critics, who argued News Corp had a long-held editorial hostility on climate action, including attacks on past Labor government policies targeting emission reduction efforts.