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What about the ethics of climate change reporting?

Matthia Dempsey, editor-in-chief of Bookseller+Publisher, writes: The details of the government’s proposed carbon tax and the News of the World scandal unfolded simultaneously on two side of the globe in recent weeks.

How does one affect the other? A vicious tit-for-tat played out examining how many News Limited journalists are familiar with their newspapers’ code of ethics played out, but it’s important to recall the explicitly stated stance of News Limited’s The Australian on its reporting of the carbon tax’s raison d’etre — climate change.

Late last year, The Australian’s environment editor Graham Lloyd defended the paper’s climate change reporting as follows:

“The reality is that, despite the science, a good deal of uncertainty exists in the minds of many people, a situation that has not been helped by the exaggerated claims of some about what to expect.”

Those italics are mine. Lloyd, on behalf of the Australian, draws a parallel between coverage of climate change and of the concerns of Pauline Hanson during the height of her One Nation popularity.

“Much has been written on how the rise of Hansonism was fuelled in large part by the refusal of the political class to allow public discussion of popular, if ill-informed, views on issues such as indigenous welfare and immigration”, he wrote.

We might question the theory, but even if we accept it, do we also accept that Hansonism can be compared to climate change? Can we compare social policy debate, which will always be subjective, with a scientific debate that now has an accepted factual and objective conclusion?

In a previous era, Lloyd may well have written something along the lines of ’Despite the science that shows the world is round, there’s a lot of uncertainty in the minds of our readers, so we’re going to continue running opinions of those who think it’s flat.’

“Even if public doubts are unfounded, refusing to hear and challenge them can ultimately compound the misconceptions,” he wrote last year.

Is that so? Or does a national newspaper that continues to publish opinion that exists ‘despite the science’ in fact foster the uncertainty that exists only “in the minds” of its readers?

Crikey reports that in November 2009 53% of people believed climate change was happening and caused by human activity, a percentage that had dropped to 45% by the end of 2010.

I’d suggest The Australian has played a role in the change in those percentages and needs to adjust its policy. Confirming News Limited’s journalists’ familiarity with the corporation’s code of ethics is all well and good, it’s the ethics themselves, when it comes to climate change reporting, that I’m truly worried about.

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  • 1
    Frank Campbell
    Posted August 1, 2011 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    “Crikey reports that in November 2009 53% of people believed climate change was happening and caused by human activity, a percentage that had dropped to 45% by the end of 2010.
    I’d suggest The Australian has played a role in the change in those percentages and needs to adjust its policy.”

    I wouldn’t. The list of scapegoats for the steady fall in global warming belief is endless: inept government, shockjocks, the “brilliant” yet unprincipled Opposition (see B.Keane, most days), “selfishness” of the masses, machinations of extractive corporations, etc etc.

    Short memories. The high water mark of climate millenarianism was 2006 (see polls). But ideological control of the respectable media by the movement was unchallenged until the Copenhagen fiasco. Now even the ABC and Fairfax are seen as unreliable by climate warriors.

    Do you really think that the failure of many silly predictions by people like Flannery had no effect? Or the collapse of Michael Mann’s prediction of exponential temp. rises wasn’t noticed? Mann and his group are now pursuing new, defensive hypotheses to explain the temp. plateau of the past decade. Chinese sulphur emissions are popular.

    Do you really think that people can’t see that the carbon tax is awful policy? Unilateral, cannot possibly attain its objective of reducing global temps, and rests on a fraud: that current renewables can replace fossil fuels. Most of the $13 billion carbon tax revenue left over after paying off households and “polluters” will be thrown at useless wind and solar- very expensive, and which have to be backed up by fossil fuels 24/7. Renewables are nowhere near ready and the carbon tax misdirects capital away from R and D. Check out the billion dollars wasted on geothermal too…

    It’s a farce. We don’t need some Murdoch hack to tell us that.

  • 2
    Bellistner
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 3:32 am | Permalink

    Aren’t we assuming here that News LTD journalists have ethics? ;)

  • 3
    DMX PRIME
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Bellistner, I think one should always give frontline journalists the benefit of the doubt, what you read and what is written by the journalist are not always the same thing. The problem seems to exist further up in editorship and management. How much the partisan culture and this wierd belief that the paper has to take an antagonistic role (No, it should take a truth seeking role) towards progressives and non-conservatives has infected the journalists is a matter for conjecture, but an assumption of good faith is only fair. The impression i’ve gotten from other murdoch assets is that not everboy inside the empire is happy with he empire.

  • 4
    Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    The ABC TV (Melbourne) last Sunday night was illustrative of how the media is no longer objective.

    The lead story was how Cameron has written a letter supporting Labor’s carbon tax. Combet was then shown saying how this shows that Abbott is out of touch, etc. Abbott is then shown saying that Australia has a different economy from the UK and that Cameron had stated that with the carbon tax Australia would be leading the world on action, and that we should not go this far. (This summary of the report is probably not accurate, but it is probably good enough to make my point.)

    The story was news, and Abbott’s response was also newsworthy.

    But was this a balanced report?

    According to the ABC it is because the all the PROMINENT viewpoints were covered.

    But Abbott’s statement that with the carbon tax Australia would be leading the world on action was never challenged. In my view a balanced report would have included an appropriate expert (e.g. Garnaut) stating the truth that Australia is so far behind on action that we are just playing catchup.

    Now most readers of Crikey are such political animals that I’m sure most will strongly disagree with me. They will think that the ABC was balanced and fair because both sides of politics had their say.

    But where is truth? And how can we make an informed decision on any issue if truth is no longer relevant to the reporting of news?

  • 5
    Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Frank,

    How would those who accept climate change, and believe we should take action, respond to your points?

    If you don’t know, you are uninformed and your post is just throwing mud.

    If you do know, then how would you respond to their reply? All your questions have standard answers which you could easily find.

    I’ll not waste my time providing any answers because my time on Crikey has shown that reasoned argument and facts are just ignored. Mud throwing is easier then being rational.

  • 6
    John
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    It isn’t The Australian that has played the biggest role in the change in those percentages, it’s the fact people have become more informed through the internet. They’re sick of the media alarmism and propaganda and have gone online to find the facts for themselves and make up their minds. And these facts are at odds with the discedited IPCC and what the media try and push onto the public.

  • 7
    Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    John,

    If you are so informed, prey tell why the Conservative UK government has set such ambitious greenhouse reduction targets?

    Prey tell how (and why) the vast majority of climate scientists, in every country, have become part of some huge conspiracy?

    And what is a rational and coherent picture of climate science that you think should replace the IPCC view?

  • 8
    Frank Campbell
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    M.W.Ham: “The ABC TV (Melbourne) last Sunday night was illustrative of how the media is no longer objective.”

    You make my point perfectly. For climate warriors, even the ABC can’t be trusted.

  • 9
    Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    For anyone wanting to be fully informed, in my opinion the ABC TV news can no longer be trusted. Climate change is but one example.

    We all remember that Howard stacked the ABC board with right wingers. The board changed the policy of how ‘balance’ would be measured. What is important now for the ABC is that the view of any prominent person is balanced by any other equally prominent person. So if one side of politics says something, providing balance is allowing the other side to respond.

    Big business tends to be rated very highly for prominence, so we often hear from them. The Greens, lobby groups, etc rate very low, and so are now often ignored.

    Taking an example which is not climate change, when one side of Victorian politics says something about public transport, the ABC will always have the other side respond. Very often what both sides say is nonsense, but as academics, public transport lobby groups, etc, have low prominence, the ABC no longer thinks their views are relevant.

    In the old days if a politician said the moon was made from cheese, the ABC would roll out a respected astronomer to point out that this was nonsense. Which ever side of politics that had made the claim would then castigate the ABC for being biased, but I believe that testing politicians claims in an objective way is not bias but good reporting.

    The ABC is no longer attempts to be objective – merely to give balanced coverage to those whom they deem prominant.

    And a final example – how does it feel to watch the news service in a dictatorship? Well the ABC TV news’ coverage of any soldiers death in Afghanistan is a good example. Politically the only prominent people who need to be reported are Gillard and Abbott, and they both say how it is a just war and the soldiers death strengthens our resolve to continue.

    From the ABC TV news you would never know that there is any political opposition to keeping our troops in Afghanistan, and you would never know that the majority of people want our troops out.

    In my opinion the ABC is no longer objective.

  • 10
    Zarathrusta
    Posted August 3, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    We’ll I’ve given up on the 7:30 report since some of Chris Ullman’s factoids were displayed on “The Drum” Website I feel he has NO credibility at all so why would I watch.

    “The Drum” show, and “The Spin Cycle” on ABC local radio are perfect examples of why the Carbon tax and many other things are being treated with such disdain and ignorance. And they are at the mild end of what passes for debate or a public converstion (now diatribe) today.

    Instead of doing the work – the research, policy analysis and reasonable comparison to like issues, policies, trials etc – almost all journalists today are engaging in hear-say reporting. They treat politics like a horse race. Tony said “X”, Julia screeched “Y”, Tony said “Another big fat Lie”(not that they’ll flag it as such). Instead of analysing whether a statement is even truthful let alone plausable or a policy is warranted, useful, likely to be successful or even practical they take the lazy way of filling dead air or column inches by discussing who is ” on a winner ” or who seems to have the upper hand. Instead of correctly reporting that a national leader is plain LYING or contradicting himself or speaking through the wrong end of his anatomy they report what he said and are too lazy to show why it it totally wrong under the slimest examination. They are not doing the job of a reporter but rather an entertainer.

    And if they are so wedded to creating drama by showing 2 sides to every story (such an assumption that there are only 2) then on something like climate change, they should at least give proportionate time to each side so that the 99% consensus gets 99% of the airtime. But no, they prefer drama to consensus and fear to progress.

  • 11
    drail
    Posted August 3, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    Hi Frank,

    Please provide a list of counterexamples to the AGW theory which prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that it is unsound.

  • 12
    Frank Campbell
    Posted August 3, 2011 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    Drail: The argument is not with the fact that CO2 and its relatives are greenhouse gases.

    As I’ve said many times, it’s the extrapolations which are fraught with contradiction and doubt. One only has to look at the wide range of projections generated from computer modelling to realise this. The Royal Society has recently warned that predicting the effect of GG on chaotic non-linear systems is…uncertain. Understatement of the year.

  • 13
    Captain Planet
    Posted August 3, 2011 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

    @ Zarathrusta

    Incisive analysis of the state of the ABC and modern media generally.

  • 14
    Zarathrusta
    Posted August 4, 2011 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Captain Planet.

    @Frank Surely what the Royal Society is saying is precisely the point. Because he effect of GG on chaotic non-linear systems is uncertain we cannot risk shifting the attractor in a way that could wrench the stable state of our climate to something we can’t tolerate. Because we can’t tell when we might bump that attractor irreversibly, we have to err on the side of caution.

    Now since becoming sustainable would create so many benefits beyond stopping the greenhouse gases, it is in our interests to move to sustainable energy regardless of whether the temperature is going up or not but given that it is highly likely that it is then we ought to do it quickly. And if you think we can’t solve this problem, just look at how we needed house brick sized batteries for mobile phones just 18 years ago and now they fit in your pocket and last for a week rather than 1/2 a day. All that is required is we put our minds to it and start doing it. It will become cheaper and the problems will be solved. It’s just that vested interests do not want competition.

  • 15
    Frank Campbell
    Posted August 6, 2011 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    So Spoke Zara: “it is in our interests to move to sustainable energy regardless of whether the temperature is going up or not but given that it is highly likely that it is then we ought to do it quickly.”

    This was true long before the rise of the carbon fetish. The 1973 oil shock (when fuel was far more expensive than now) was one warning. Electric cars were killed off by Motown moghuls and their oily mates, more than once…the lead acid battery is a century-old joke…These examples could be multiplied. Neither the state nor capitalists were motivated to R ‘n D renewables or associated technology.

    The central fraud of climate millenarianism is not the AGW thesis itself-the hysterical manifestations of this is merely the device that creates panic. The panic itself guarantees abject failure of the project itself- as I’ve been saying here for over two years. Haste and exaggeration have led to farce: everything from pink batts to cash for clunkers to wind turbines to billion dollar subsidies for domestic solar. Progressive parties suffer the electoral consequences.

    The key fraud though is contained in four words of your quote: “move to sustainable energy”.

    Move to where exactly?

    Local millenarians never discuss the short and ridiculous history of “renewables” (or carbon capture and storage) in this country (or others): a billion dollars has been wasted on geothermal for absolutely no result- except to prove the obvious, that Australia is a dismal geothermal prospect. Read Flannery’s Fantasy in “Now or Never”. The handful of holes drilled have exposed horrendous technical problems at both extreme depth and shallow depth. Clue: Australia isn’t Iceland.

    CCS likewise. Crippling geological problems, apart from the fact that so much power and capital has to be expended just to extract the CO2. So far $300m wasted. The economics are so bad that Big Coal has spent only 12% of its billion dollar CCS- even though (given the potency of the carbon religion) it is clearly in their own interests.

    Wind: the biggest fraud of all. Cannot power a single bulb 24/7. Billions already wasted. An environmental nightmare. Must be backed up 24/7 by fossil fuel powergen. Net loss of jobs.

    Domestic Solar: a billion dollars wasted to produce 0.1% of Victoria’s power. A direct subsidy to middle-class moralists at the expense of everyone else. In Germany, where the renewable cult is deeply entrenched, $70 billion has been blown to produce 0.1% of total power production.

    Industrial solar: very expensive, largely unproven at scale. Billions already wasted, more to come(Gillard’s Moree plant for eg, surrounded by cheap gas, which has to be used for backup).

    Tidal? UK abandoned the $100 billion Severn tidal plant- because of cost, environmental damage to wetlands and the fact it was unproven. Saved by the GFC.

    So your conclusion “All that is required is we put our minds to it and start doing it. It will become cheaper and the problems will be solved” is a cruel hoax. You can’t just shut down/greatly increase the costs (carbon tax) of existing FF power infrastructure and leap to the phony “solutions” listed above. The voters have finally concentrated their minds on this proposition. As I predicted here two years ago, this empowers the Right. Remember the delight of the Greens and ALP when Abbott knocked off Turnbull? A gauche, simian failed priest, still reeking of Howard, had killed off progressive, AGW-savvy Malcolm….the Greens would capture inner-city Liberals seats like Higgins and Bradfield…the Liberals would split and end up in the dustbin of history…

    What utter crap. But the Crikey headbangers abused me for months for stating the obvious after Dec 2009.

    To use your own naive analogy, the brick-sized mobile phone of the early 1990s- the equivalent move would have been the removal (or taxation) of the landline network circa 1992 to force accelerated development of mobiles…

    The backward condition of renewables today is due to the passivity of the state and the machinations of big capital. Scandalous, but there it is. The premature, uneconomic rush to the plethora of immature (or failed) renewables is political suicide.

    Belatedly, the Productivity Commission says current renewables are seriously flawed.

    The carbon tax is without doubt the worst piece of public policy in decades. It cannot (by definition) achieve its target (lower global temps). The local target (5% reduction in emissions) is itself farcically small- why bother? It is unilateral, causing immediate economic damage. The revenue is handed back in bribes to households and “polluters”, except the $13 billion which will be mostly wasted on wind and other chimeras. The tax will increase sharply in future, magnifying the nasty class-biased effects, and eventually killing off remnant steel and similar manufacturing.

    If GFC Mk II occurs as expected, Gillard will drop the carbon tax. With relief. She is no climate warrior. Abbott is then in deep shit. Take away the climate farce and what’s left for Tony? He is intrinsically unattractive to Labour voters and the centre. Which is why he has moderated his policies ( and disguised his unsavory attitude to workers’ rights). The next election could therefore go either way. No doubt the ALP cabal (Bill “Jane Austen” Shorten, the Roosters et al) are planning for this eventuality. Banal Julia may just have too much baggage- the cabal might knock her off. Next time round it could be Turnbull vs Shorten…

    And I haven’t even mentioned the traumatic mess climate computer modellers are in: if global temps drop or stay on the current plateau…well, there’s nothing as passe as a dead cult.

  • 16
    Frank Campbell
    Posted August 6, 2011 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Journalists’ ignorance of renewable energy realities- Leonore Taylor in “The Age” today:

    “…$10 billion to help set up new renewable energy generation, a lot of it very likely to be in the same electorates and regions that are losing manufacturing jobs.”

    This will be mostly wind with some solar. Wind plants employ very few people indeed. The biggest wind “farm”, at Waubra in Victoria, claims just 30 jobs. Few of these are local. Far worse is the damage to regional economies as incomers avoid wind infestations and residents flee the area. Worse still is the net loss of jobs economy-wide caused by subsidies: estimated at 2.2 jobs in Spain and 3.7 jobs in the UK for every “wind” job created.

    Yet the government touts reneweable energy as “development” in the provinces. A nasty deception.

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