One can only hope that the profound political thinkers of Extinction Rebellion took care not to dump cow manure on the wrong steps when they descended en masse to Kensington this week. According to the group, which used the somewhat confusing ‘#Freethepress’ slogan, the target of their protest was Northcliffe House, home of the Daily Mail. Annoyingly for the eco-warriors though, the paper is based in the same building as the Independent, which unfortunately shares pretty similar beliefs to XR: that we are all doomed and will shortly be fried to a crisp by the sun, unless rising sea levels drown us all first.
As part of the stunt, XR drove a rather eco-unfriendly truck down Derry Street to dump the manure while protesting the fact that ‘four billionaires control the majority of our national newspapers’ leading to a ‘corrupt billionaire press that profits from our division and consistently fails to tell the truth on the climate and ecological crisis’.
Unfortunately, newspaper ownership is more complicated than XR is letting on. One of the billionaires targeted by XR is Evgeny Lebedev, owner of the Indie and Evening Standard, publications which are hardly antagonist towards efforts to prevent climate change. Another press baron, Lord Rothermere owns both the Mail and the i – which is broadly sympathetic to XR’s aims. Even Rupert Murdoch, the left’s favourite bogeyman, runs the Times, which carries a number of news and opinion pieces sympathetic to the idea of a climate crisis.
XR state that ‘just three companies control 90 per cent of the national newspaper market.’ Which may be true, but one of these companies is Reach PLC, owner of the left-wing Daily Mirror. And the far and away most influential media outlet in the UK is the BBC, which is so ‘on message’ that virtually every weather report, travel item and gardening show seems contractually obliged to mention climate change. Sky News, with its daily ‘Climate Show’, isn’t far behind. When you factor in the influence of the Guardian, it’s hard to believe that overall the UK media is controlled by a ‘corrupt billionaire press that profits from our division and consistently fails to tell the truth on the climate and ecological crisis,’ as XR claims.
It seems that XR doesn’t really want to ‘free’ the press as it claims. Instead it would prefer to shut down the parts of that press which don’t share its view that we are a few short years from disaster, that unless we all give up eating meat and driving cars and flying places the planet will cook like an apple pie in a microwave, and that when it does, it will be all our fault. Never mind the fact that the UK has slashed emissions and has committed to Net Zero, and that China is building the equivalent of a new large coal plant each week – it’s all the fault of perfidious Albion and, by extension, the plebs who believe what they read in the papers, vote Conservative over Corbyn, and refuse to live in yurts.
This isn't the first time XR have attempted to shut down the press while at the same time claiming to be its liberators. In September 2020, the organisation briefly shut down production of several newspapers whose views it found unacceptable by blockading print works in Herts, the North West and Scotland. As well as failing to discuss climate change, the papers were apparently ‘polluting national debate’ on issues such as migration. In other words, writing stuff the protesters didn’t like.
As someone who cares passionately about the environment, I find it a tragedy that an issue of such importance as climate change – or the ‘climate emergency’, as XR has it – has been hijacked by people who seem to think the best way to capture the hearts and minds of the nation is by sabotaging public transport, confronting David Attenborough at his home, attempting to ‘free’ the press by shutting it down, and by dumping tons of horse manure in a West London street – to be shovelled up by low-paid street cleaners. As a metaphor of the woolly thinking behind the XR movement, it’s perfect. As a way of combating climate change, it stinks.