National Geographic has a new majority shareholder as of this week – and the news has people doing double takes. Rupert Murdoch, CEO of 21st Century Fox (of which Fox News is a subsidiary) now owns a 73 percent share of the company. The $725 million purchase pushed Nat Geo’s total endowment over $1 billion, which is surely a sigh of relief in an age where more and more subscribers are opting for digital media. But, is the transfer of power to a reported climate change denier going to cause more harm than good?
The National Geographic Society is now in partnership with the for-profit National Geographic Partners, which controls the aforementioned 73 percent of the magazine and other media assets (and the Society only 27 percent). The Society’s chief executive Gary Knell explains, “It has become apparent that ensuring the future of the society would require something bold.” The National Geographic TV channel has been partnered with Fox since 1997, yet some journalists have voiced weariness about the direction the programs have been taking, which do not reflect the sophistication of the magazine. Susan Goldbert, National Geographic’s editor in chief, said “Fox has acknowledged that they have not always represented the National Geographic brand in some of those programs in a way we loved or even they loved.”
With the captain of the Fox ship being Murdoch, who is a self-identified “climate change skeptic,” there is concern he may steer the ship away from scientific facts and into the dangerous waters of climate change denial. He is recorded as asking the question, “Climate change has been going on as long as the planet is here… How much of it are we doing, with emissions and so on?” and being closely associated with the Fox News programs so notorious for challenging human-influenced climate patterns about which 97 percent of reputable researchers and scientists agree. This is concerning, to say the least. Time will reveal what kind of damage can be done, yet it’s safe to say this new alliance has the people understandably concerned about what this all means to the magazine’s commitment to reporting the facts.