Why Rupert Murdoch's Exit at Fox Is Good for Climate Change Science

06/12/2015 02:44 pm ET | Updated Jun 12, 2016

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch will be stepping down as CEO of 21st Century Corp and turning over the helm to his son James Murdoch, according to CNBC. Though it's likely the younger Murdoch will consult his father, who still owns the majority of the company and will continue as executive chairman, on key decisions, the patriarch's departure from day-to-day management could be good news for proponents of climate change science.

The reasons are twofold. For one thing, 21st Century Fox owns the Fox News Channel, an extremely conservative and influential cable outlet that has historically shown disdain towards climate change science and marginalized the importance of clean energy. In addition, James is more liberal than his father and has publicly shown his support for climate change science in the past.

In an op-ed for The Washington Post in 2009, James makes it clear that he believes protecting the environment is as much a conservative ideal (and necessary priority) as a liberal one. He also told The Observer that "This is crunch time right now. All of the climate prediction models suggest we're on the worst-case trajectory, and some cases worse than the worst case."

This suggests the younger Murdoch may be more inclined to take on Roger Ailes, the imperious chief of Fox News, on how the network addresses the topic of climate change. Even though Ailes will continue to report to Rupert, James will no doubt have influence over Ailes as CEO of Fox News' parent company. That doesn't necessarily mean he will restrict Fox News from presenting arguments against climate change science, but he could certainly push for greater balance in the cable network's coverage.

In fact, James has already done something similar in the past through News Corporation, the sister company of 21st Century Fox which was spun off in 2013. That (uncharacteristically) had the support of Rupert, but when it comes to Fox News it's been a different story. Rupert, whom The Guardian called out last year for his lack of understanding of climate change basics, has shown no evidence of reining in the conservative propaganda and even misinformation that the network routinely puts out.

Now that he will be running the show at 21st Century Fox, however, James should be able to promote at least a somewhat more climate-friendly message through Fox News, especially as it relates to policy changes needed to protect the environment and the coverage of new technologies that can help us meet our future energy needs in a cleaner way.

But will Ailes cooperate? It's hard to tell. Fox News' conservative viewership tends to scoff at climate science and the heated politics behind the topic make it difficult to find middle ground. In other words, Fox News has a valid business reason not to change its programming and James might find it difficult to convince his biggest shareholder, his dad, to let him tinker with the successful network.

Also, a study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that while Fox News certainly promotes an ideological viewpoint through excessive commentary, so does its liberal counterpart MSNBC, and it's fair to say that there are extremes on both sides of the debate. That might make it harder for James to make a reasonable case for why Fox News should soften its stance.

Yet if he doesn't try, the environment - a cause he cares deeply about, could suffer. Time will tell how far he's willing to go but there's arguably good reason to hope that the changing of the guard at 21st Century Fox could lead to less opposition to climate change science from the conservative media empire; and therefore a more balanced debate on the subject.

S. Kumar is a tech and business commentator for publications such as FORTUNE and TIME. He has evaluated mergers and acquisitions in the technology, media and telecom sectors for leading investment banks, and provided strategic consulting to media companies and hedge funds.