News Corp’s new-found belief in science

More smoke and mirrors from Rupert Murdoch, as News Corp gets all “scientific” with Big Tobacco, writes Rhys Muldoon.

WITH PROFITS down, News Corp, like many media companies, has had to find new revenue streams.

Earlier in the year, News Corp lost US$1.5 billion (AU$2.06 billion) in just three months. It was so serious, Rupert Murdoch himself, as executive chairman, decided to forego his entire bonus. And those losses keep climbing.

The Australian, a newspaper that has apparently run at a loss since 2008, according to former editor Chris Mitchell, has just found a new revenue stream — Big Tobacco. News Corp has signed a deal, according to an anonymous source, that is “well into six figures”.

Unsurprisingly, the company involved is Philip Morris. This is “unsurprising” as Rupert Murdoch was on the board of Philip Morris for a mere 12 years or so. And it wasn’t all one-way traffic. Many Philip Morris executives have been on the board of News Corp.

Tobacco advertising has been virtually non-existent for many years. Gone are the days of brands like Black and White (‘5 extra smokes for blokes!’), Escort (‘Join the Escort Club!’) and Virginia Slims (“You’ve got your own cigarette now, baby!”) Now cigarette advertising has to be more discrete. And discrete it is. So discrete, one of the “articles” contains the line: ‘While the best thing any smoker can do is quit tobacco and nicotine altogether…’ Sound Okay? Sure.

But it goes on:

‘The reality is that many adult smokers in Australia will continue to smoke cigarettes – one of the most harmful ways to consume nicotine – unless the government rethinks its tobacco control policy.’

It then goes on to berate ‘policymakers, regulators and health authorities’, asking that they listen to ‘…facts, evidence and science-based alternatives…’ You’ve probably guessed it. It’s an ad for e-cigarettes.

While the Murdoch press has regularly been accused of being “anti-science” regarding climate change, science is front and centre with these “articles”.

‘A better future starts with faith in science’ reads the first headline. It then bangs on about how amazing computers are for a while, telling us that knowledge and technology will overcome threats like malware and viruses. Then we get: ‘Australians understand this. Sometimes our politicians don’t.’

We are then informed that:

‘Recently released research by Philip Morris International (PMI) shows that public faith in science is high, with 80 per cent of people surveyed in Australia hopeful that advances in science will solve many of our biggest problems.’ 

Uh-huh. We then get into the aforementioned berating of those science hating regulators.

The decade of News Corp’s demise

‘Follow science to the moon’. ‘If our minds are open to advances in science, nothing is beyond us’. Thus opens another “article”.

This one is a meditation on science making the impossible possible and how so many of those darned experts got it wrong. Men like Lord Kelvin, who proclaimed: “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” 

We then are reminded that we went to the moon and that flight has:

‘…liberated human endeavour and created a sense that if minds are open to advances in science, nothing is beyond us. Clearly, the answer is never say never.’ 

Then the same Philip Morris sponsored research is quoted and we get into an identical argument for e-cigarettes.

We are warned:

‘We should not let this become another tale driven by mindsets trapped in the present, captive to conventional wisdom and an unwillingness to recognise the potential of science and evidence to solve great problems.’

This third and final example (don’t worry, there are plenty of others) is headlined: ‘Even car safety copped a belting.’

This one is a poem to the wonders of car safety and how the seatbelt and science have saved many, many lives. ‘In the event of a car accident, the safest place a person can be is in their car with a seatbelt attached.’ Helpful stuff.

Then we get:

‘Some may still cling to bizarre theories in defiance of evidence, but for the rest of us the science is in and it is unequivocal.’

And you know what comes next — more berating of government, health authorities and regulators.

This one even goes so far as to add:

‘Yet our politicians still choose to defy evidence and shun technology which can lead to better outcomes.’

All of these “articles” look like regular articles. There is a small mention in grey, stating: ‘Content produced in partnership with Philip Morris.’ There is one thing noticeably absent: an author. Where there is normally a by-line, it simply says (in that soft grey) ‘Partner Content’.

It’s not often you see such unabashed praise for science in a Murdoch newspaper, but you certainly do here. It’s the best science money can buy.

Rhys Muldoon is an Independent Australia columnist, actor, writer and director. You can follow Rhys on Twitter @rhysam.

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Rock climbing’s newfound popularity uncovers dark past of unsavoury route names, sparking its #MeToo moment

As society has grappled with cultural reckonings of movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, sport has not been spared.

None more so than the sport of rock climbing, where a debate about the names of climbing routes has divided what was once a small, close-knit community with strong traditions.

Warning: The following article contains words and phrases that may offend some readers

In just the past two months, a debate has exploded within the climbing fraternity about route names considered to be sexist, misogynistic, homophobic and racist.

Names like Rape and Carnage, Rape and Pillage, Flogging a Dead Faggot, Pasty Poofs and One Less Bitch have been raised as being deeply offensive.

As a result, climbing has been forced to reconcile its past.

“Definitely it’s grotesque,” Emma Horan, who has represented Australia in climbing and runs one of Sydney’s largest bouldering gyms, said.

“I started climbing when I was seven and I’d never considered the implication of the names — I guess that’s my privilege.

“And then [when] one of our other friends, who’d been climbing for not too long, made reference to it, I thought, ‘Actually, that is really bad.'”

There are thousands of route names in Australia alone.

Indoor rock climbing has grown in popularity in recent years.(ABC News: Daniel Irvine)

Many relate to sexual acts, while others refer to band names, musicians, drugs, and even Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.

The debate has exposed fractures in a sport that has grown massively over the past decade. It moved from the alternative to the mainstream as indoor climbing gyms took off and the sport became an Olympic event.

How a climbing route is named

It all goes back to one of climbing’s unwritten rules around the sanctity of what’s known as “the first ascensionist” — the person who first climbs a route has the right to name it.

Some of them are written down in print in the form of guidebooks. Hundreds of thousands of others exist in cyberspace on a database called The Crag, which also functions as a social network for climbers.

“These names are maybe given in a moment of excitement and people are very young and think they’re funny,” The Crag’s head of business development, Ulf Fuchslueger, said.

“Very often in Australia, once a name is given to the first route on a cliff, people try to stay in the same context.”

A rock wall in the Grampians with metal climbing spikes and hooks
Metal climbing spikes and hooks can be seen on the face of this rock in the Grampians.(Supplied; Parks Victoria)

And so, in one of the Australian flash points around the popular climbing cliffs near Nowra on the New South Wales South Coast, you get the name One Less Bitch, followed by Queen Bitch, Bitch’n, Bitch Slap and so on.

But this is where the context of the debate gets murky — where one person’s humour or homage is another’s offensive statement.

One Less Bitch is a name of a song by controversial American hip hop group NWA.

Many of the names were given in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s in what was then a largely counter-culture sport, much like surfing.

“You live out in the wild, you sleep at the cliff — it was not just a sport,” Fuchslueger said.

“There was all that revolutionary aspect of climbing as well.”

And it was particularly popular with some social groups — “punks, a bunch of hippies”, according to Horan.

“If you look at the people who were climbing early on, it’s a very male, white-dominated sport,” said Riley Edwards, president of LGBTQ rock climbing and social club ClimbingQTs.

A lot of those young men were listening to rap and punk and naming route names after their favourite songs, or making jokes about sex and porn.

“A lot of the racially toned names have come from rap culture, which in the ’80s and ’90s wasn’t so much discussed as inappropriate for white people to reference,” Horan said.

“When it was a bunch of young guys down at the crag, I don’t think they had the intention of anyone else doing those [climbs].

“I obviously am not comfortable with it, I know a lot of friends that are also not comfortable with it.”

Climbing community pushes back

Names such as Flogging a Dead Faggot — which has recently been reviewed and is listed in The Crag as “Sanitize Review” — are particularly problematic for gay climbers.

“For someone who may not have come out to their family or friends, to see these really homophobic slurs, if they read those things in the climbing space, or if they hear someone making a joke, how are they ever going to become comfortable in themselves, let alone to their climbing peers to be themselves?” Edwards said.

There was a time when only a handful of people would have known about the names, but the explosion in popularity of indoor climbing has led to many more people discovering them after making the switch to outdoor climbing.

The debate first began in Mexico two years ago, according to Fuchslueger, over a route called Tinder Pussy.

A rock climber looks downwards while hanging from the face of a large rock
Historically, the first person to climb a route has the honour of naming it.(Supplied)

When the Black Lives Matter movement erupted this year, it prompted a debate in the US about climbing route names that referenced slavery.

Very quickly, a similar debate began in Australia, exploding on social media and in climbing forums.

“It ended up in pretty nasty comments on our forums — we even had to delete some of that stuff because in itself it was pretty offensive,” Fuchslueger said.

The debate has mirrored others in the arts, media and public life over historic figures, their beliefs, and works.

“This sounds like the book 1984, where history is being rewritten to suit the regime,” one post on The Crag read.

A muscular man without a shirt climbs the exterior of a large rock
Ulf Fuchslueger says debate over renaming routes online ended up “pretty nasty”.(Supplied: Berna Fuchslueger)

Another said: “Climbers do seem to have a unique, and at times excruciatingly funny, sense of humour. It would be a travesty if it was supressed for something as trivial and irrelevant to real life as political correctness.”

The argument that “it was funny at the time” carries no weight for Edwards, though.

“It just seems like an outdated perspective, most likely coming from someone who’s never been subject to any form of discrimination or harassment,” they said.

‘It’s a complete change of culture’

Rob LeBreton, one of the original developers (route setters) and guidebook author for Nowra, was approached by the ABC to be interviewed but did not respond. None of his names have been flagged as offensive.

In an article for rock climbing magazine Vertical Life, he attempted a nuanced take on the debate, arguing: “Those that are blatantly racist, sexist, promote sexual violence, homophobic, etc, have no place in climbing or society.”

A rock climber ponders his next move while climbing the face of a big outdoor rock
Fuchslueger says older climbers “resent” the sport’s rise in mainstream popularity.(Supplied: Berna Fuchslueger)

He said context was important and that climbing opened his eyes to diversity, referencing the route names that came from rap music.

“For many of us, it was the first time we had seen African Americans as something other than the amusing sidekick in a movie or TV show,” he wrote.

The Crag is attempting to change the names and, indeed, Fuchslueger says many first ascensionists are coming forward to ask for that to happen.

But Fuchslueger acknowledges that it’s a slow process for a sport which, in some regards, is still struggling with its new-found popularity.

A climber clambers up a rock as members of a team applaud and give support.
Members of Melbourne climbing community ClimbingQTs.(Supplied: Australian Sports Foundation)

“It’s a big thing for climbing — it’s a complete change of culture, and that’s maybe one of the reasons that some people that are part of the older climbing community are not so happy with what’s going on,” he said.

“It’s all the people that are coming out of gyms that were never involved in setting up climbing areas and bolting. I’m sure there are many people who resent that.”

And therein lies one of the conundrums of the debate: how to preserve the sanctity and the legacy of the “first ascensionist” — that person who holds a special place in climbing.

“Even though these people had named them terribly, they have still done a service to the sport in actually being the developer of these areas,” Horan said.

“It costs a lot of money; it takes a lot of personal time. I don’t inherently think these individuals are bad, they’re just not particularly smart in their naming choices.”

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How the Covid-19 pandemic gave a Thai monkey population newfound freedom – Channel 4 News

While Britain wonders if today’s loosening of the lockdown will lead to feral fisticuffs on a grand scale, in Thailand gangs of vicious locals have had the run of the city throughout the pandemic.

The lack of visitors has given the resident macaque monkeys new found freedom – bringing challenges for the city’s human residents too.

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