Extinction Rebellion’s Newspaper Protest: Did They Have a Good Reason?

The Eco Experts

On Saturday 5th September, climate change activist group Extinction Rebellion delayed the distribution of several national newspapers after blocking access to three printing presses owned by Rupert Murdoch.

More than 100 protesters used bamboo structures to block roads outside the Newsprinters printing works at Broxbourne in Hertfordshire, Knowsley in Merseyside, and Motherwell in North Lanarkshire.

XR members also used vehicles – covered with “Free the truth” banners – to block roads to the printing plants, while individual protesters chained themselves to structures.

But why did they carry out these protests? Is there any truth behind XR’s claims?

The reason behind the protests


Extinction Rebellion states that this dramatic protest was meant to draw attention to “the disgraceful true colours of our ‘free’ press”.

“What we read in the papers is controlled by a handful of powerful billionaires who feed us stories that suit their interests. The truth about the terrifying emergency we face has been locked up for too long by corrupt media moguls and dodgy politicians, who jostle for power and undermine our democracy.” – Extinction Rebellion

Although the UK is home to a handful of national newspapers, a huge percentage of them are owned by billionaire businessman Rupert Murdoch. 

In April 2019, an investigation by The New York Times found that Murdoch used his media holdings to sway elections in Australia, the UK, and the US. Extinction Rebellion says this control of politics by the media is having a knock-on effect on other national issues, including climate change. 

How much are UK newspapers actually reporting on climate change?


As part of their newspaper blockade announcement, Extinction Rebellion claimed that Murdoch’s newspapers are staying silent about climate change.

To test this, we collated information on how many climate change articles were published in January of each year since 2000, across an array of different newspapers. Compare the results below:

Data from Media Coverage and Climate Change


As you can see, since the year 2000 the Guardian has almost consistently been reporting on climate change more than all other news outlets in the study. In comparison, The Sun and Daily Mail seem to be barely speaking out about this pressing matter. 

However, the Times’s results make Extinction Rebellion’s argument slightly flawed. Also owned by Rupert Murdoch, this newspaper is often battling for pole position on the chart – suggesting that the Murdoch empire isn’t totally silent on climate change.

Nonetheless, XR’s statement suggests that the newspapers they have targeted “are not reflecting the scale and urgency of what is happening to our planet.” So, although these newspapers are still covering climate change, XR feels it is not enough coverage.

How are people reacting to the protest?


In true Extinction Rebellion style, the roadblock has caused a wave of divisive opinions. Whilst some believe this act has increased awareness of unbalanced national media, others argue that this protest is an act of anti-democracy in itself. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke out about the event on Twitter, declaring that the actions of these environmentalists were ‘unacceptable’. 

Home Secretary Priti Patel also condemned the activists’ protest, suggesting that the government may even take a fresh look at how the group is classified under the law. 

In response to this, Labour MP Diane Abbott defended XR and compared the group to the suffragettes, saying it would be “ridiculous” to reclassify them as an organised crime group as they are “not criminal, they are protesters and activists”.

Another Labour MP, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, wrote a tweet that arguably sums up the essence of the climate group: “Whether you agree with the tactics of XR, they are right to highlight the concentration of media and their appalling climate change record”.

These protests – often deemed as ‘extreme’ – aren’t an attempt to get viewers to like or dislike the group, they’re an ongoing attempt to raise awareness of climate change… And it’s certainly got us talking.

Written by:
Beth has been writing about green tech, the environment, and climate change for over three years now – with her work being featured in publications such as The BBC, Forbes, The Express, Greenpeace, and in multiple academic journals. Whether you're after a new set of solar panels, energy-saving tips, or advice on how to reduce your carbon footprint, she's got you covered.
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