Extinction Rebellion’s (XR) latest escapade in blocking Rupert Murdoch owned print sites, responsible for the distribution of major newspapers including The Sun, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, and The London Evening Standard, is yet another example that illustrates how counterproductive the movement is.
Climate change is real and it’s happening all around us, but using the movement to close millions of readers off from the conversation is not going to help the cause – but alienate those who could benefit the most from more education on climate change. Like the London Tube strikes of last year, the disruption the movement causes is offloaded onto ordinary, working people, instead of the CEOs and business giants of companies around the world who consistently ignore the threat of climate change.
The blockading of printing sites had a domino effect not just on the readers, who received their papers late or not at all, but on the overnight print workers, delivery drivers, wholesale workers and newsagents – the working-class undercurrent of the print journalism world. Similar to the Tube strikes that caused mass disruption to the commuters of London, instead of the bankers and CEOs, these actions have directly impacted ordinary people, making them more likely to feel alienated from the cause.
At the heart of their message, is an incredible amount of irony. They appear to have a complex relationship with capitalism by exposing its impact on our climate, but end up offloading onto working people who bare the brunt of their protests. Furthermore, with this particular incident, they only serve to alienate the people that could benefit from learning about their message, often in fact, featuring on the pages of mainstream papers. An opinion piece by Sir David Attenborough who recently criticised the movement as not “sensible politics,” failed to reach its readers through the disruption – a definitive ode to the inefficiency of their actions, surely?
XR could be praised for starting a public conversation about the climate emergency, but their actions are inherently counterproductive and render the cause as whimsical, despite the serious message it aims to spread. Additionally, if one of their aims is starting a conversation about climate change and what to do about it, the prevention of a free press is never going to galvanise their cause.
In response, Priti Patel said this was an “attack on free press and democracy” and for the first time in my life, I had to agree with her statement. The free press in this country is inherently flawed, of course, Murdoch and his empire embody that with their history of the phone-hacking scandal and other unethical journalistic practices. Ordinary people and journalists alike, know that our press isn’t perfect, and sometimes does not give climate change the attention it deserves, but we would be a lot worse without it, and without the choice to read what we desire.
We are living through the first global pandemic in 100 years, where reporting of the truth is essential and journalism serves a vital role in the public distribution of information. The combined print readership of The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Telegraph totals several million, and in their blockade on its distribution, XR only seeks to blame readers, rather than those in power. If you want to criticise the Murdoch empire, then go ahead, but don’t burden ordinary people.
As someone who is critical of the right-wing press, and does not believe our media should be in the hands of the few, I understand XR’s sentiment as there is so much to criticise within the Murdoch empire – but attacking the utility of the press and its importance within a functioning democracy is not the way to raise climate awareness. It doesn’t pave the way for inciting a public conservation on one of the most important emergencies of a generation.
Instead, XR should be looking to have meaningful conversations with these media giants, instead of alienating them. Being a movement that prides themselves on creating a national conversation is one thing, but preventing the outlets that carry their message to the people is another.
Their latest escapade undermines the purpose of a free press that could be valuable to its cause by furthering the national conversation about climate change. Targeting and preventing the distribution of news to millions prevents any hope of those readers form being sympathetic to their cause. Thus, at the core of XR’s movement is failure, as their actions continue to attack everyday people who lack the powers to disentangle the detrimental impacts of the multinational corporations across the country, responsible for near climate disaster.
These actions could severely damage print journalism in a time where news matters. The message behind Extinction Rebellion is perhaps the most important one of our generation, however, their actions consistently fail and as a result, they only increase the alienation of the masses from being engaged with their cause.