Category Archives: Media reporting

Australian media failures promote climate policy inaction (reprint)

The greatest challenge to effective policies dealing with climate change is the Murdoch media, a point I’ve made many times on this blog. Thus I’m very much in agreement with this latest piece from The Conversation – Mike @ WtD

By Brad Farrant, University of Western Australia; David Holmes, Monash University, and Mark G Edwards, University of Western Australia

Four months ago, the big media proprietors were fighting proposed federal government press reforms, arguing that “the press” needs freedom if it is to defend the public interest. But these arguments were raised only to defend the media’s system of self-regulation. What was absent then, and since, was any demonstration that Australia’s news media hold politicians morally accountable on the public issues that really do matter. The most pressing example is climate change.

The science is clear. Over 97% of climate scientists and every major national science academy agree that the planet is warming due to human activity. Leading public health organisations and prestigious peer-reviewed journals have recognised that “Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”.

Why are they getting away with it?

In our previous articles we focussed on the (un)ethical position of politicians who don’t accept the science of climate change, or won’t act on it. But what about the journalists who should be holding them to account?

You would think most journalists would be forensically questioning any politician who denied the science or failed to devise and support adequate policies to address this threat.

Unfortunately very few, if any, of our mainstream journalists have ever really challenged climate-science-denying politicians.

In fact the opposite has been true. According to research by Robert Manne, many major media outlets – notably the Murdoch media, and particularly The Australian – have actively created doubt about the science. They have misreported the science and supported inaction among politicians who should be developing climate policies and offering national and international leadership on the issue.

The news media have largely failed to cover the science and the solutions to the problems it raises. A report on coverage of the carbon price by the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (University of Technology, Sydney) said that some major Australian newspapers were “so biased in their coverage that it is fair to say they ‘campaigned’ against the policy rather than covered it”.

The number of environmental journalists in Australian newspapers has declined, leaving the ABC and pockets of Fairfax as the only outlets to tackle climate change politics and science. This is a significant problem in Australia that has broad implications for national and international efforts to combat dangerous climate change.

Recent analyses of the statements made by our federal politicians have found that a large number of MPs and Senators have publicly denied the findings of climate science. Around half of all coalition MPs and over two thirds of coalition Senators have publicly denied the science. Because the overwhelming majority of the science-deniers are from the Liberal and National parties, the failure of the press to hold them to account becomes a major political and anti-science bias by the media.

More insidious than outright denial of the science is a new form of denial where the science is accepted but where the need for carbon pricing and government intervention and regulation is denied. This appears to be the current position of the Federal coalition. Again this goes almost completely unchallenged. This is media bias in the form of silence and failing to adequately scrutinise politicians’ claims. Why aren’t journalists scrutinising politicians when they claim that they “support the science”? Why aren’t they assessing the ability of climate policies to do what the political proponents claim they can do and whether they are capable of being scaled up to deliver the emission reductions that are required to prevent dangerous climate change?

Can you imagine if we had a large group of politicians who accepted the science supporting the life-saving benefits of vaccination programs but denied the role of governments in legislating for child vaccination?

Given that they have a duty to ensure public policy is based on scientific evidence, why is it that journalists haven’t questioned and challenged climate science-denying and policy-free politicians to explain their positions on scientific and ethical grounds?

The culture of Australian media

That such positions can be held but not defended while the science itself is attacked in Australia says much about the culture of commercial media in this country.

As in the US (according to Pew) most Australians get their news from commercial TV (see page 9 of the Convergence Review). This format is suited to reporting live events, violence and conflict but not to the background needed for understanding big, global issues like climate change. Even when extreme weather events are covered, the dramatised suffering of individuals – rather than big-picture science – is highlighted.

This kind of news is all that politicians feel obliged to respond to, as they do their routine overflights of disaster zones and give nationalistic speeches about how Australians always pull together in a crisis.

In Germany, by contrast, where newspapers (in print or online) have traditionally been the most important news source, climate change policy features much more than it does in Australia and the US.

The enormous concentration of media ownership in Australia limits the diversity of reporting needed to cover climate change in depth. One company – News Ltd – controls 72% of capital city newspaper circulation. The same commercial values that legitimate this kind of monopoly in news (which also exists in the coal and energy industries) are unlikely to be challenged by journalists.

For example, business editors at News Ltd have long run the line that Australia’s coal industry (its associated jobs and balance of trade) would be hurt if politicians allowed climate change science to govern investment regulation. In the face of this, it has taken an international social movement like to initiate a divestment campaign in Australia, rather than the issue being chased by the media.

As the level of global emissions continues to increase and the urgency for real change grows, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has gone above 400 parts per million for the first time in millions of years

Yet Australia continues to avoid committing to the steep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that are required to avoid dangerous climate change. The current bipartisan national emissions reductions targets (e.g., 5% by 2020) mean that Australians will use four times as much of the carbon budget as the average global citizen, making us a nation of emissions bludgers and hurtling the world ever closer to climate disruption.

What will future generations think about the climate science-denying media bias of today and the failure of Australia’s journalists to seriously challenge the group of science-denying leaders and politicians?

David Holmes receives funding from Monash University Faculty of Arts for research into climate change communication.

Brad Farrant and Mark G Edwards do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.


News Ltd kicking more sand in the public’s face: just why are Murdoch’s papers recycling the old “CFCs not CO2” zombie climate myth?

The state of the climate debate in Australia under News Ltd

The state of the climate debate in Australia under News Ltd

Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited, which controls 70% of the Australian print media, are without doubt doing the Australian public a great disservice with their constant stream of climate disinformation.

It is not enough for News Limited to shape the narrative as “believers versus sceptics”, thus creating a sense of false balance. They take it a step further by willfully distorting the public’s perception about the causes of climate change while simultaneously undermining their trust in the scientific community.

Recent evidence of this can be seen across News Limited publications and websites these past two days.

Nearly every organ of Murdoch’s Australian media empire has been actively pushing the discredited theory that CFCs are to blame for warming (not CO2). Here is the audit trail:

  • The story first appeared in The Australian by Graham Lloyd on Monday 3 June (see here)
  • It then made it onto Andrew Bolt’s blog on 7:27pm the same day (see here)
  • A reference was made on Piers Ackerman’s blog on 4 June at 12:45 am (see at the end of the article)
  • Reference to it was published in the Cut and Paste section of The Australian today.

Note how the same message is weaved into different articles across multiple platforms?

Clearly the intent is to hit the broadest number of readers across all demographics: from the tabloid pages of the Herald Sun to the faux-paper-of-note pretensions of The Australian aimed at a more “elite” audience. Note they all appear within a day of each other.

Note also that in last night’s Q&A program, Senator Cory Bernardi referenced this News Limited generated fiction.

Cause and effect clearly demonstrated on national television.

Based on the uniformity of the message, tone and content it is clear the voice of the independent journalist is irrelevant at News Limited.

What matters is the message and broadcasting it on all frequencies to a mass audience. The resurrection of the “CFCs not CO2” myth is but a single example of propagating misinformation over a broad spectrum (News Limited papers and web platforms).

And the message is simple.

Climate change isn’t happening, don’t trust the scientists.

I’m not going to address the science, but simply direct readers to the refutation at Climate Science Watch. I also note Crikey have picked up on the errors contained in Graham Lloyd’s article as well (pay wall sorry).

However, upon reflection something has been missing in both my comments and Crikey’s analysis.

And it is not about focussing on the minutia of the debate, which this whole episode is merely another tedious example.

It’s time to consider the bigger picture.

The desperate last phases of the climate debate: throwing sand in our faces

When somebody is losing a fight, and they feel the tide of victory flowing against them they’ll resort to increasingly desperate tactics.

Consider the final moment of many films where the hero and villain square off to fight. Shots, punches and kicks are exchanged as the fortunes of both protagonists ebb and flow.

But there comes a moment when both protagonists and the audience recognise the villain is in the throes of their final and inevitable defeat.

What does the villain do?

They grab a handful of sand or dirt and throw it into the face of their opponent.

It’s a sign of desperation, a feint intended to stem defeat by distracting and irritating their opponent. Sometimes it works, but generally it signals they have nothing left to fight with but dirty tricks. The message to the audience is clear: “They are deceitful, even in their last moments”.

It’s a trope used countless times. In fact, my daughter’s favourite film The Lion King contains it. In the final confrontation between Scar, who has usurped the throne and Simba (the rightful heir to the title of Lion King) the villain scatters burning ash in latter’s eyes in a final act of defiance.

Which is exactly what News Limited is doing, they are throwing sand in the face of the public and scientists in desperation.

Welcome to this new phase in the climate debate.

In raising long discredited “zombie” climate myths News Limited is reaching for sand to throw in all our eyes.

One can see why this would be the case. Public acceptance of the science is overwhelming; most accept humanity has changed the planet. Did we forget to mention 97% of climate scientists accept the science?

Everyone but the climate sceptics recognise their increasing irrelevance and what is clearly the death throes of their movement.

But they have one more trick to play, one last desperate gamble…

They’re clutching for a handful of sand to cast into the faces of their opponents.

Lose the debate and lose the kingdom: for Murdoch the climate debate is about one thing, can you guess?

For the owner of News Limited and his army of minions the trajectory of public opinion must be troubling. So they are throwing everything at it.

Misinformation and zombie climate myths are their sand. But why? That is a question worth asking.

Murdoch is desperate to continue setting the political and social agenda within Australia and the English-speaking world. News Corporation is the agency of his will; they are his legions of flying monkeys.

Here is something we may not have considered in speculating over News Limited’s role in the climate debate.

Why is it that Fox News, The Australian, The Wall Street Journal and all other organs of the Murdoch empire are unanimous in their contempt for the science? Consider this…

The climate debate, from Murdoch’s perspective, is as much about forestalling action as it is about Rupert Murdoch.

It is about Murdoch’s king making and opinion making abilities. It’s about his power. It is about how much he has, and how effectively he can wield it.

It is about how media power shapes the conversations we have in political debates, around the proverbial water cooler and over the BBQ on a Sunday afternoon.

How much does it say about the power of Murdoch and News Limited (which fervently believes it can shape the tone of all political conversation within our nation) that it can no longer control the debate or public perception on climate?

What does it mean when public opinion slips from the control of the opinion makers?

Lose the ability to shape the debate, and you lose the kingdom.

All empires are fictions and all power is perceived.

This is especially the case today with the internet reshaping the media, rendering the traditional gatekeepers less relevant than they once were.

A king-maker who has built his empire on public perception, mass entertainment and sports broadcasting understands this intuitively.

From the Tampa Affair, the denial of the Stolen Generations and the climate debate, Murdoch has sought to shape our nation and values for decades.

Does it come as a surprise that public respect for the media in Australia is at all-time low? This is not a coincidence, nor some chance correlation.

News Limited’s reporting on climate change is at odds with people’s everyday experiences of a changing planet. Should you believe Andrew Bolt or the evidence of your home burning to the ground over Australia’s “Angry Summer”?

Remember how the Carbon Tax was going to be the ruin of us all?

The disconnect between what News Limited wants the public to believe, and what the public experiences is growing further apart. A crisis of credibility is engulfing News Limited, and they’ve failed to recognise it.

And their response to this growing disconnect?

The recycling of this old zombie climate myth (CFCs not CO2), a desperate attempt to throw sand in our faces. The whole CFC meme of the past few days is merely to distract the public with an irrelevant fact, while also enraging activists and scientists with its stupidity.

It is as if Murdoch has thrown sand in our eyes and is screaming in our faces: “See, see! I still set the agenda!”

How much time and energy will we expand on countering the “CFC not CO2” zombie myth one more time?

Stop focussing on the sand in your eyes, irritating as that may be.

Look at who is throwing the sand.

Advice to the scientific community: well, not that “you” asked

At the heart of scientific practice is error reduction: detecting, and correcting errors. Both your own and that of your peers. It is a valid means to ensure research results support theories; that theories reflect the actual state of the world.

However, in the climate debate a focus on error reduction – for example correcting people or journalists on the “CFCs not CO2” issue – is counter productive.

We will forever be chasing down errors, and attempting to correct people’s misconceptions. It is a rabbit hole we have spent too much time dwelling  in – chasing down a misconception here and another piece of disinformation there.

We are Red Queens, forever running as fast as we can in a vain attempt to merely stay in the same place.

Yes, we can catch one error and force a correction printed in the pages of The Australian. We can get the Australian Press Council to issue a statement against the likes of Andrew Bolt. But in that time, ten thousand errors have flown from the pages and blogs of News Limited.

We catch an error and declare it victory. Time to consider the bigger picture.

Think of the climate debate like this…

Until recently we thought the universe was the solar system with the Earth at its centre. Then we thought the universe was no more than our home galaxy, The Milky Way.

Our perception was stunted, limited to the local.

Then Hubble took his famous images of red shifted objects…

… and the Universe exploded into view, revealing its immensity and majesty. Our view of the universe and ourselves was profoundly changed.

We need to think about the climate debate in this manner: broader, deeper and more sophisticated.

No more error correction please: turn your big brains to more profound questions.

Back to Murdoch, the King Lear of the Anthropocene.

The King Lear of our time: Murdoch

To return to the film The Lion King (no really!) you may be surprised to learn it is loosely based upon Hamlet. Shakespeare’s tale is a cautionary one about those who usurp thrones and marriage beds, and the tragic consequences of those actions.

But I’m reminded of another of Shakespeare’s plays when I consider Murdoch and his need to control the climate debate in our politics and in our private conversations.

King Lear, the dying king who divides his kingdom among his ambitious children. It is a decision that begins a chain reaction of events ending in ruin.

Murdoch is that monarch whose time is coming to an end; he is the king who divides the state among his children. Like Lear, it is his selfish, ego driven decisions that precipitates the ruin of all.

King Murdoch – the Lear of the early twenty-first century – would rather let our planet burn then admit he no longer sets the agenda on the climate debate, nor countenance being wrong.

Rub the sand from your eyes, ask why it has been thrown.


[A few errors in first draft got through, fixed]

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Reality hits: Even the Herald Sun is reporting on a 5C Degree world by 2100

Even the Murdoch owned Herald Sun* is reporting on the enormity of what is happening to the planet.

Since July of this year when the carbon tax came into effect and didn’t destroy the economy, the tone of the HUN has changed to from outright skeptical to more straight reporting of climate change.

Today they reported on a recent study that predicts a 5C world without giving any voice to climate sceptics:

LEVELS of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) are rising annually by around three per cent, placing Earth on track for warming that could breach 5C by 2100, a new study published says. 

The figure – among the most alarming of the latest forecasts by climate scientists – is at least double the 2C target set by UN members struggling for a global deal on climate change. 

In 2011, global carbon emissions were 54 per cent above 1990 levels, according to the research, published in the journal, Nature Climate Change, by the Global Carbon Project consortium. 

“We are on track for the highest emissions projections, which point to a rise in temperature of between 4C and 6C by the end of the century,” said Corinne le Quere, a carbon specialist at the University of East Anglia, eastern England. 

“The estimate is based on growth trends that seem likely to last,” she said in a phone interview, pointing to the mounting consumption of coal by emerging giants. 

Other research has warned of potentially catastrophic impacts from a temperature rise of this kind. 

Chronic droughts and floods would bite into farm yields, violent storms and sea-level rise would swamp coastal cities and deltas, and many species would be wiped out, unable to cope with habitat loss.

Should we pleased with the fact that people with the Murdoch empire have seen reason and are reducing the influence of the crazies?


On the one hand it is another sign of the rapidly diminishing influence of the climate scepticism and the sceptic movement.

But what amends can News Limited and Murdoch make for the decades of climate change denial and misleading the public?

That we are now approaching a world of 5C by centuries end is a tragedy. The level of suffering may dwarf the Holocaust and the wars of the 20th century.

We must urgently, desperately avert this.

* Melbourne daily with a circulation in excess of 1 million

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It’s a mad, mad and hotter world: the top 6 climate stories of 2012

As the year comes to a close its time to reflect upon the previous year’s climate related news. I mean who doesn’t love a good end of year “The best of” list?

So what made headlines? What events mattered? And crucially what shaped the public’s understanding of climate change?

In order to address the above questions I’ve selected what I believe are the top six “breakthrough” climate stories of the year. These are the issues that had a strong influence on the public’s understanding of climate change.

I’m confident we’ve witnessed an important shift in the climate debate as (a) evidence of rapid global warming has manifested with a vengeance and (b) the majority of the public now accept the reality of global warming.

But what caused this shift? Ultimately the climate stepped in to adjudicate the debate.

In a year of record temperatures and super-storms, the physics of climate change demonstrated its reality.

And while the debate between sceptics and warmists will grind on for several more years it was the evidence presented in the form of drowned cities, withered crops and searing temperatures that shaped public perception.

1. It’s global warming stupid: Hurricane Sandy and the North American summer. And the drought. And the derecho storm. And killer tornadoes. And wildfires.

Perhaps it was the thousands of temperature records smashed, the devastating drought that gripped large sections of the United States, the rare derecho storm that lead to millions losing power or the hundreds of tornadoes that that ripped through the country that taught millions of Americans the climate was changing. Let’s not forget the wildfires either.

By the end of 2012 the belief the climate was not changing became untenable. An overwhelming majority of the American public now accept the reality of climate change (up to 70% according to Business Week).

And then there was Sandy. Who can forget the images of a devastated New York and East Coast?

Not only did Sandy influence the US Presidential election in painting Mitt Romney and the Republicans as the party in dangerous denial – they had a good chuckle about climate change at their convention – it also tangibly and tragically demonstrated what to expect from a climate spinning out of control.

2. Red alert: Greenland melt accelerates

There are troubling things happening up north, not least of all the record breaking seasonal melt for Greenland in August of this year. And while some claimed this news was insufficiently reported in the mainstream press (of which there is some truth) bloggers, tweeters and social media activists did the job for them.

While the fourth estate slept, denizens of what I’d like to call the fifth estate (social media content creators) stepped in to spread the word.

3. Going, going, gone: Arctic sea-ice reaches lowest minimum

If you want to know what the Arctic’s death spiral looks like merely cast your eyes over the above graph. George Monbiot said it best: “Stupidity, greed, passivity? Just as comparisons evaporate, so do these words. The ice, that solid platform on which, we now discover, so much rested, melts into air. Our pretensions to peace, prosperity and progress are likely to follow…”

And how did humanity react to this worrying trend? Giving fossil fuel companies license to rush in and explore for more oil.

4. Apocalypse averted: the Carbon Tax debate fizzles out

The end product of the merchants of hate (source News)

In the coming decades, future generations will puzzle over how the Australian political system almost imploded over the fight to introduce a price on carbon.

The Murdoch press ran an orchestrated campaign against the tax while right-wing radio shock jocks worked up the angry masses into even greater levels of well.. anger. The Federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, ran a two year fear campaign against the tax claiming “We will be rooned, roooooned!”

Australian political debate reached a new low with nasty catch phrases such as “Juliar” (in reference to Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard) entering the popular lexicon and radio presenter Alan Jones claiming climate science was “witchcraft”.

The forces arrayed against the tax included private think tanks, News Ltd, the Liberal National Party, large segments of the resources sector and eccentric billionaires such as Gina Rinehart.

And yet the government managed to get the legislation through both houses of Parliament. In retrospect it is amazing the minority Gillard government didn’t collapse and still manage to introduce a price on carbon – something that had eluded previous governments for almost 20 years.

So did the world end? Did Australia become an improvised, backwards economic wasteland? Are we Aussies now all living in caves, desperately missing hot showers and street lighting?

Rest assured – the world didn’t end, the sun is still shining and industrial civilisation didn’t collapse as the sceptics warned us.

5. It’s worse than you think: PWC, World Bank reports and news of the permafrost melting

Imagine you’ve just been told by your doctor you have cancer: you’ve got maybe five years. But with treatment you could extend your life well beyond that.

You’d be alarmed and no doubt take positive steps to address the issue: you’d undergo medical treatment, change your diet, exercise and consider changing you life.

Who want’s to die prematurely? Or maybe you’d still be in denial.

Either way, you’re presented with this information and the opportunity to act.

But a month after being told the above, you return to see your doctor only to be told he was wrong. A new round of tests conclusively proves you’ve got a year – maybe two.

“So sorry…” states your doctor “…but the cancer is far more aggressive. Fortunately we’ve caught it early due to some new technology and diagnostic methods. But we need to start treatment right away.”

This is the situation humanity faces.

In the past six months a series of reports and a rash of new scientific evidence has been presented that makes for alarming reading:

It not just the IPCC or those radical socialists otherwise known as “climate scientists” saying the climate is changing more rapidly than anticipated. Some of the most conservative institutions and corporations have joined the chorus for urgent action by signalling their alarm.

Which means either one of two things: the need to act is increasingly urgent or that every scientific, political, media, business and professional association is part of the conspiracy.

6. No sympathy for the devil: Peter Gleick disembowels the Heartland Institute

I believe scientist Peter Gleick did humanity a favor, even if his methods were controversial.

Gleick obtained key strategy and planning documents from The Heartland Institute – the US libertarian think tank – by pretending to be one of its board members. He simply called up reception and asked for documents to be sent to an email account.

Was it worth it?

In retrospect, yes.

The documents revealed how Heartland and other think tanks manufacture doubt.

Once the story went viral and was picked up my mainstream media the reputation of Heartland suffered enormously – it lost millions in funding and was forced to cancel their annual conference for sceptics.

Gleick revealed the dark underbelly of the climate sceptic movement: the anonymous funding and the deliberate campaign to deceive.

Sceptics were furious of course – “How dare he, that criminal!” they fumed. Anthony Watts and others threatened to sue Gleick or bring in the authorities- but as suspected, nothing eventuated. Such actions would have brought a level of accountability bodies such as The Heartland Institute seek to avoid.

And that’s just what Gleick did: bring greater transparency and accountability to the climate debate.

The denial movement has been milking Climategate for years. To this day deniers continue to salaciously drool over the half dozen meaningless emails hacked form the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit.

But the public twigged to the hypocrisy: the Gleick episode demonstrated the public has no sympathy for the devil.

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Leveson inquiry finds News International “failed in corporate governance” calls for accuracy, public trust in media continues to collapse

There can be little doubt that Murdoch’s News International has fanned the flames of climate scepticism and mislead the public: but what kind of company is News?

Hence my interest in what is happening in the UK.

The Leveson inquiry (set up in response to the phone hacking scandal) has just delivered its verdict, and it’s not good for the Murdoch’s or News International.

Simply put, they failed to apply suitable standards of corporate governance: in plain English that means Murdoch failed to manage his company.

From today’s Age:

The Murdoch-owned company News International seriously failed in corporate governance over phone-hacking and James Murdoch’s account of a key event was less credible than that of an executive who told a different story, the Leveson inquiry has found.

 Justice Leveson found that News International and its parent company News Corp had failed to investigate evidence that phone-hacking was widespread among journalists at the News of the World.

“There was serious failure of governance within the News of the World. Given criminal investigation and what are now the impending prosecutions, it is simply not possible to go further at this stage,” he said… 

Interestingly, James Murdoch did get the emails related to phone hacking (though denies reading them):

Mr Murdoch had been sent an email chain in which a hacking victim alleged that illegal practices were “rife within the organisation”. Mr Murdoch told the inquiry he had not read all the email chain and was unaware of this claim.  

Justice Leveson concluded: “James Murdoch replied to the email within two minutes of receiving it. The speed and content of his reply appear to support his claim not to have focused on the key allegation.”

The Guardian reports here.

The report recommends an “independent self-regulatory body” to help enforce a “standards code”. The report can be seen here and is worth reading, but one of the key recommendations is for a code of standards that ensures “the need for accuracy, and the need to avoid misrepresentation” (page 33).

It is worth noting the report explicitly states the body will have NO power to prohibit the publishing of information: still this will not prohibit the Murdoch empire claiming a totalitarian dictatorship is one the way.

Watch the commentary on the Leveson report from The Australian for the official Murdoch party line.

“The internet ate my media empire” excuse: how News International is destroying the public’s trust in media

Having noted the above, it is worth recalling Australia is the grip of a faux-scandal fanned, cheered on and manufactured by News Ltd.

But as the hacks of the Murdoch empire pursue their ideological vendetta against the mildly right-of-centre Gillard government, attack climate scientists and promote right-wing nuttery the public is increasingly losing faith in the media.

Across the English speaking world public trust in journalists and the media is collapsing – especially in those countries where News International is dominant:



Is it a surprise the media is the least trusted industry?

Conventional wisdom states the internet is destroying traditional media – which is only partly true.

It’s not the platform – it’s the content.

And the content?

No-one believes it. They don’t trust it. And increasingly, they’re not paying for it.

I’d argue the public trust is collapsing faster in the English-speaking world – the UK, USA and Australia – where the Murdoch press is a major player or dominant.


Because of the disconnect between real world events and what News reports across it papers and on stations such as Fox News. 

People are noticing the disconnect.

Told that climate change isn’t real, all they have to do is look at increasing weather extremes.

News International champions an extreme form of market-fundamentalism – and yet it is this extreme laissez-faire philosophy of limited government, deregulation and blind faith in market forces that laid the seeds for the present financial crisis.

Nearly every News outlet championed Romney and the GOP in the last US presidential election, thinking Obama’s re-election unthinkable. And yet Obama comfortably won his second term.

Need I go on?

News International is infected with an aversion to reality, and it’s hurting their reputation and destroying public trust in the media.




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Front page climate change news? The Age gets it right on permafrost story

Those of us attempting to communicate the risks associated with climate change often lament the lack of “serious” media coverage.

While climate change is frequently mentioned in the op-ed sections of Australia’s papers (and if a News Limited publication the stance is invariably skeptical) it is rare to see climate change make front page news.

Which is why I was impressed to see The Age today – the headline, At the edge of disastersays it all:

THE world is on the cusp of a “tipping point” into dangerous climate change, according to new data gathered by scientists measuring methane leaking from the Arctic permafrost and a report presented to the United Nations on Tuesday.

Journalist Ben Cubby should be congratulated on his story, especially getting it onto page one at time when every other paper is pursuing the faux-scandal that is the Gillard-AWU affair.

The story is about one of the more worrying climate related tipping points; the release of the vast stores of methane under the Arctic permafrost.

Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon, and has been of concern for several years now as this 2009 New Scientist article alludes:

I AM shocked, truly shocked,” says Katey Walter, an ecologist at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. “I was in Siberia a few weeks ago, and I am now just back in from the field in Alaska. The permafrost is melting fast all over the Arctic, lakes are forming everywhere and methane is bubbling up out of them.”

Back in 2006, in a paper in Nature, Walter warned that as the permafrost in Siberia melted, growing methane emissions could accelerate climate change. But even she was not expecting such a rapid change. “Lakes in Siberia are five times bigger than when I measured them in 2006. It’s unprecedented. This is a global event now, and the inertia for more permafrost melt is increasing.”

What does this mean?

Simply put – it may imply warming is happening faster than anyone anticipated:

Now it appears that the assessment was too optimistic. The latest data from across the globe show that the planet is changing faster than expected. More sea ice around the Arctic Ocean is disappearing than had been forecast. Regions of permafrost across Alaska and Siberia are spewing out more methane, the potent greenhouse gas, than models had predicted.

Ice shelves in West Antarctica are breaking up more quickly than once thought possible, and the glaciers they held back on adjacent land are sliding faster into the sea.

Extreme weather events, such as floods and the heat wave that gripped much of the U.S. in the summer of 2012 are on the rise, too. The conclusion? “As scientists, we cannot say that if we stay below two degrees of warming everything will be fine,” says Stefan Rahmstorf, a professor of physics of the oceans at the University of Potsdam in Germany.

In my mind this is one of the most worrying tipping points (search WtD blog for “clathrate gun hypothesis”).

For some time it has been one of the things that terrify – yes terrify – me:

So let me state this: it is now pointless wrangling over the question of whether or not to attribute individual events to climate change.

Reality makes that debate redundant.

We’re here: we’ve arrived at the point in history when our species has engineered a new climate. The point we knew was coming – that was inevitable – if we did nothing.  

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Have “old media” failed us? Yes. Yes they have.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard gave an impassioned speech in Parliament the other day on misogyny which caused the world’s media to pay attention. However the Australian media seemed inattentive or unaware of its importance.

I don’t agree with every decision of the current Labor government, and remain disappointed on a number of fronts. But it was a brilliant performance: the PM clearly spoke with conviction and passion – something that has been lacking for some time.

Within minutes of her speech, people in my work were talking positively about it. Tweeters and social media took to it with gusto and shared it around the world.

That’s how powerful her words were.

This public and social media response prompted journalist Jacqueline Maley to ask the question “did mainstream media get it wrong?”

The bubble of the Canberra press gallery has been decisively popped this week. 

After Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s scorching oration against Opposition leader Tony Abbott on Tuesday, the gallery, those of us writing and broadcasting in the so called ‘mainstream-media’, came to a general consensus: sure, Gillard had given a great speech, but it was founded on hypocrisy. Many of the nation’s premier political commentators focused on this fact – that the speech was made trying to save the political career of Peter Slipper, himself accused of disrespect to women. 

But as the press gallery pundits (mostly middle-aged men, it must be noted) scribbled and spoke, something very different was happening on the internet and in the community…


Yes, mainstream media has got it wrong.

On this issue and so many others.

I believe this: on one of the most important issues of the 21st century – environmental collapse – the media has not merely ignored the problem, but have mislead the public.

When future histories are written, the myopia and subsequent collapse of public trust in the “old media” (radio, newspaper and television) will be related to this failure to inform.

“Old media” should have helped educate our society about the risk of climate change.

Instead, print, radio and television either ignored the issue or facilitated denial.

When I began this blog I was an avid reader and watcher of “old media”.


I rarely depend on those sources for news – except to critique the gross mischaracterization of science.

As a blogger and commentator I don’t “live off” the hard work of old media and hard-working journalists.

I go direct to the sources; I bypass the gate keepers who for far too long have got it wrong.

I’ll go to the science, and scientific community. I’ll turn to other informed bloggers and commentators outside the media. Thanks to the Internet, information and facts are readily available. As an individual passionate about finding out about the world around me, I ignore “old media”.

The old media is dead.

Long live the new media.

“News Corp: overwhelmingly misleading” – the damning indictment of Murdoch’s media empire

[Hat tip Media Matters]

“Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper.” George Orwell

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UOCS) has just published a damning study of the incredibly distorted character of News Corporation’s (News Corp.) climate science reporting.   

Analysing the accuracy of how the science is reported within the pages of The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and on Fox News during a recent six month period, UOCS found overwhelming evidence of a persistent and systematic campaign of deception:

Instances of denigration go beyond inaccurate claims, to express a lack of trust in scientists, scientific institutions, and their conclusions, or to characterize the acceptance or rejection of climate change as an ideological (as opposed to a scientific) issue. Our team found clear examples of denigrating climate science in both the media outlets examined.

Titled “Is News Corp. Failing Science? Representations of Climate Science on Fox News Channel and in the Wall Street Journal Opinion Pages” (A. Huertas and D. Adler) this 30 page report provides further understanding on how Rupert Murdoch and his media empire have distorted the public’s understanding of climate change.

Indeed, this “war on science” waged by News Corp. prompted one scientist to state it has cost humanity several decades mitigation efforts. So prevalent is climate change scepticism within News Corp. it lead Rolling Stone magazine to name Murdoch as one of the chief architects of organised denial:

“Murdoch’s entire media empire, it would seem, is set up to deny, deny, deny. The Wall Street Journal routinely dismisses climate change as “an apocalyptic scare,” and Fox News helped gin up a fake controversy by relentlessly hyping the “climategate” scandal — even though independent investigations showed that nothing in the e-mails stolen from British climate researchers undercut scientific conclusions about global warming.”

With this in mind, let’s turn to the methodology of the study and its results.

Fair and balanced? Study methodology

The writers of the study took a “snapshot” of content from Fox News and the Wall Street Journal

“This snapshot analysis examined six months of Fox News Channel content and one year of representations in the Wall Street Journal opinion section based on keyword searches for the terms “climate change” and “global warming.” Our team examined transcripts and articles to determine whether these media outlets mentioned climate science, action on climate change (personal action or government policies), both, or neither.”

The results are not surprising to those familiar with News Corporation’s contempt for facts and the almost missionary zeal in which this media company has set out to cast doubt on the science.  

Indeed, one can make the argument – as David McKnight does in his excellent book – that this can be attributed to the barely concealed ideological prejudices of Rupert Murdoch.

Fox News: 93% of 40 representations of climate science misleading

More often than not, a picture can say more than 1000 words:


Yes, the graph is correct: only three incidents of accurate reporting. What more can be said about the “fair and balanced” nature of Fox News?

News Corps. pattern of behaviour: misleading, cherry picking and mocking

The study categorised the type of misrepresentations into five broad categories. For those of us intimately familiar with how News Corp. frames climate science it comes as no surprise:

  • Broad dismissal of the scientific evidence
  • Disparaging climate scientists
  • Disparaging or mocking climate science as a body of knowledge
  • Cherry picking individual facts or findings of question overall consensus
  • Debates or conversations where misleading claims drown out accurate ones

And while this pattern of mischaracterisation and deception were attributed to editorials in the WSJ and on Fox news, one can easily apply the same to News Corps. Australian holdings: The Herald Sun; The Australian; The Daily Telegraph.

Within the pages of these newspapers the “war on science” has been relentless, unceasing and equally deceptive.

Industrial scale misinformation: the legacy of Rupert Murdoch and News Corp.

The authors of the report end with a call for News Corp. to “reform” their reporting of the science and the reality of climate change:

“Representations of climate science on the Fox News Channel and in the opinion section of the Wall Street Journal should be informed by an honest assessment of how cultural worldviews about the role of government affects people’s perception of scientific expertise and evidence on a range of issues, including nuclear waste, mandatory vaccination, and climate change (Kahan, Jenkins-Smith, and Braman 2010). These cultural biases in processing scientific information ought to be understood and examined, especially by media figures with strong ideological identifications and opinions who take their responsibilities to the public seriously.

The reasons for this are vital:

A great many politicians, columnists, and other public figures from across the ideological spectrum accurately convey climate science to audiences and understand the difference between science and policy. Their voices should be amplified, not ignored…”

While a worthy call, I see it as naïve: News Corp has “dug own it’s grave” on the climate change issue.

In order to “reform” it would need to remove or censor the dozens, if not hundreds of journalists, editors and other staff engaged in what can only be called “industrial scale misinformation”.

Such is the reach – and extent – of this $32 billion media company that it seems almost wistful to ask it to simply “report the facts”.

To start “truth telling” would also entail the management of News Corp. both publically and privately acknowledge error and the attendant accountability that implies.

This act of accepting responsibility seems antithetical to the very nature of this company, its management and culture.


Some months ago I wrote a piece on Murdoch and his empire in response to the hacking scandals and the issue of climate change:

“Murdoch’s legacy will not simply be the broken and dysfunctional culture of News Corporation.

His most lasting legacy will be the damaged climate and a world of 2 degrees plus. For decades, News Corporation has waged a pitiless and deceitful campaign against scientists and the public understanding of the climate change.

Murdoch charged News Corporation with a missionary zeal to spread his free-market ideology. The doctrine was preached by his army of journalists and television presenters. Across the globe the likes of Andrew Bolt, Terry McCrann, Chris Mitchell and Glenn Beck spread the Word of Murdoch.

And the Word was: the market cannot fail.

We should remember that when super-charged bush fires burn our forests to ash and devastate small communities across Australia.

Remember the role News Corp. played in misleading and deceiving the public over the coming Australian summers.

When ever increasing numbers of people begin to ask “Why weren’t we told?” point them to the pages of News Corporation’s newspapers. Climate change is real – and yet for decades News Corp. has reported it as a hoax, a fad or the product of shadowy cabals.

And what is the price of this wilful denial, conscious deception and disparagement of the science and scientists?

Look at the tens of thousands of record high temperatures, the warming oceans and rapidly disappearing Arctic sea ice: this is the Murdoch legacy writ large.

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Which one is the hate machine? Thoughts on social media, blogging and traditional media

Subtitle: An open letter to the Journalists of Fairfax, News Ltd, the ABC, SBS

I just watched the full press conference in which the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, stood in front of a room of journalists fielding questions on that awful, nasty and misogynist campaign directed against her.

Complicit in this campaign was News Limited and the more rabid parts of the online community, notably the campaign led by the despicable Larry Pickering.

Towards the end of the interview, Gillard provided an incredibly insightful view on the role of social media in the political process, the declining influence of traditional media and how everyone is struggling with the sheer abundance of information.

She criticised the media for adopting conspiracy theories from the “lunar right” and described the  “tea party effect” in which absurd conspiracy theories become fact.

While everyone is still focussed on “that affair”, I believe Julia Gillard delivered a perceptive critique of the current state of affairs: traditional media is “dying”; people are being walled off into epistemic bubbles; conspiracy theories dominate our politics.

She also stated she believed there would be a “flight” to quality journalism – all of which I agree with.

However, her words have prompted me to think more on the issue especially since I’m a blogger – someone who is part of the “social media” landscape.

Firstly, I have nothing but respect for the craft of journalism: I believe that it is vital to a functioning democracy. I believe we need a quality press, but that there is also room for Twitter, blogs and YouTube for sharing information, discussion and analysis.

Social media is an electronic commons, and from that much good and some less good will flow.

I appreciate that many in the mainstream press have nothing but contempt for those of us operating in social media: not merely because some of “us” seem to be extreme, but also because quite frankly we are competitors. Some believe we merely “steal” their content, and devalue it by circulating it across the internet. All of this is true, and yet not true as well.

The second thing I would say is that even though “social media” is being criticised, recall the rumors were mainstreamed by the daily papers of News Limited – the Australian division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

My point is this: you can’t blame the medium, whether that be social media or the traditional press.

The real problem is the politics and ideology that underpin the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories and paranoid fantasies.

It’s not merely a case of the messenger bringing unwanted news: it is the people sending the messenger deliberately crafting a falsehood to be delivered.

This is why my criticism directed at News Corporation (and yes the ABC and Fairfax as well) can be quite sharp.

I would much rather the media help inform citizens on issues of critical importance – for example global warming. Instead, it often promotes climate change deniers.

I want both News Limited and Fairfax to be profitable businesses; I want the full spectrum of political views – both left and right – to challenge my views, not merely reaffirm them.

Personally, I thrive on debate and the clash of ideas.

But I want to trust the traditional media outlets.

But how can I?

How can I when I open up the pages of The Herald Sun and see Andrew Bolt is dismissing the threat of climate change year, after year, unchallenged?

Or when I see Glenn Beck sprouting conspiracy theories to millions thanks to Fox?

What should I make of The Australian’s “War on science”?

This blog was born out of frustration by an avid consumer of all forms of media: I wish to understand the world around me, to seek out facts and to be challenged.

But what would “traditional media” like me to do with my frustration?

Write a letter to the editor?

“Dear Chris Mitchell, would it be possible to print the truth about climate change? Sincerely Mike”

“Dear Andrew Bolt, could you please stop circulating untruths about the science of global warming and cease attacking Tim Flannery?”

“Dear Rupert Murdoch, as a father I am concerned for the future of my child – could you perhaps stop your media empire from promoting climate change denial – and help inform the public – rather than your misinformation leading us to disaster?”

How far do you think such missives would go?

The climate change issue has pointed to a massive, systemic failure on the part of media and politicians.

I implore, I urge, I insist – rather than be defensive I would ask “traditional media” players – owners and journalists – to acknowledge their failure and the loss of public trust.

My writing efforts were born out of frustration: rather be a passive consumer I decided to add my voice to the debate.

And I have reached tens of thousands of people around the world.

I have seen my posts taken up in discussion forums in the US, Israel, Russia, Brazil and nearly every nation in Europe. I have been astonished to see them debated, dismissed and praised. My posts are Tweeted and posted on Facebook.

It amazes me that my words are out there, read by virtual strangers.

Many write to say how “moved” they were by a piece.

Scientists have emailed their thanks to me for “standing up” to the denial machine.

And I’ve done it all from a laptop, perched upon my lap as I sit drinking coffee on a coach.

The start-up costs for Watching the Deniers were nothing.

But the writing?

The research?

The time spent thinking about what to say, the editing and the reviewing of content all without assistance?

Sitting behind this blog are hundreds – maybe thousands – of hours in which into I have poured my soul. This has been given willingly by someone wanting to help educate and make a difference.

And this is something I feel traditional media still fails to grasp: there are many fine writers and commentators operating independent blogs. People who take their craft seriously, who have something to say and can often say it better than the mainstream press.

Because we are free; we can speak with a forthrightness that would cause many an in-house legal counsel to shiver.

Even so – as a I blogger I recognise I can be part of the problem: this is why I make every possible effort to provide sources that back the claims I make.

Which is why with my recent pieces on someone like Dr. David Evans I have striven to provide links to sources, the materials themselves and context. I’m in the process of having these claims reviewed by scholars and experts who will confirm, refute or help shape my understanding.

Because I am an amateur, one still very much learning.

I also recognise the limits of what a blog like WtD can be: it is not a newspaper.

It is a place for me to speak my mind, to comment, critique and share with a community. I have made good friends through blogging; I have received feedback from scientists and activists around the world; when in error, people point this out and I acknowledge and correct.

I try to bring to the craft of writing the integrity, honesty and hard work I believe it deserves.

Many of us do.

Thus I would say to journalists and “official” members of the fourth estate: we are not enemies.

We have far more in common than you realise.

Do not take our sometimes harsh critique for contempt: yes, we can be your sharpest critics.

But like the theatre critic who writes a scathing review of a poorly performed play, it is born of a deep love and appreciation of the art.

We see the potential of the media; we appreciate its power to both inspire and educate.

You are failing because you thought we – citizens, not consumers – wanted to be entertained by scandals, failed Hollywood marriages and tales of cute puppies once lost, now found.

We want you to reclaim your heritage: that of our voice and our champion.

We want you to speak honestly, and not be the mouthpiece of ideologues nor endlessly recycle press releases from corporations and politicians.

We demand that you report fairly, fearlessly and honestly.

But we expect you to be an appropriate filter: to protect us from those that would deceive, and not report their falsehoods and make them part of mainstream discourse.

It is an enormous responsibility we give to you, yet it appears to be one that cannot be managed alone.

The health of our democracy so very much depends upon you: reclaim your heritage and true role.

Then – maybe then – you will regain our trust.

Conspiracy culture: how the Australian media overlooked the paranoid politics of the deniers

“….[it] would appear to be the Rothschild plan: to create an international authority on the pretext of saving the world from global warming, this salvation being somehow achievable by creating a “carbon exchange” as another source of speculative profit for the Rothschilds, et al. The international authority leading towards a “new world order” would have The City of London as its world capital…   – NWO Observer

Yesterday Ben Cubby of The Age wrote a brief article on the response of the Australian denial movement to Richard Muller’s BEST study and his conversion from scepticism to acceptance of climate change.

What immediately caught my attention was the quotes by Malcom Roberts, a prominent member of the Galileo movement:

A prominent Australian sceptics’ group, the Galileo Movement, said its views would not change at all because of Professor Muller’s study. The group features broadcaster Alan Jones as its patron and lists prominent sceptics Ian Plimer and Bob Carter and blogger Andrew Bolt as advisers.

“We’ve based our views on empirical science, and there’s nothing in the Muller study to undercut that,” said the Galileo Movement’s manager, Malcolm Roberts, a former mining engineer and company director.

Mr Roberts said climate change science had been captured by “some of the major banking families in the world” who form a “tight-knit cabal”.

Mr Roberts said he understood that the group’s views might sound strange, but claimed they were increasingly popular. “It does sound outlandish,” he said. “I, like you, was reluctant to believe it [but] there are significant things going on in Australia that people are waking up to”.

This is a claim I’ve familiar with, and is common currency amongst climate sceptics across the globe.

I noted some time ago some of Australia’s most prominent climate sceptics were proponents of this conspiracy. Jo Nova and her husband David Evans are perhaps the main proponents of this conspiracy in Australia.

It was very much on display during the protests last year in front of Parliament house, with cranks and conspiracy theorists painting their beliefs on signs and waving them in front of the media.

The mainstream Australian media have failed to appreciate that climate denial in is an example of conspiracy culture.

I’d strongly urge journalists and the media to note Roberts claims about cabals, international bankers and the conspiracy theories pushed by the Australian climate “sceptics” and review the world view of the sceptic movement.

This feature of the movement has been overlooked in an attempt to provide (false) balance in reporting on the climate change “debate”.

Indeed, the media have rushed to publish the views of sceptics such as Nova, Monckton and Roberts without checking their statements on “international bankers” and NWO/socialist conspiracies. Climate denial has all the hallmarks of conspiracy culture that holds the following beliefs:

  • a conspiracy of individuals and groups whose powers and reach is all-pervasive
  • history is a product of these forces, there is no such thing as chance
  • the conspiracy acts covertly to achieve a malevolent end/s

So why do the sceptics get so much play? The fossil fuel industry disinformation campaign promoted via think tanks is a factor.

But there is more to this story.

Due to the challenge climate change prompts (and the attendant anxieties), the intensity of the sceptics disinformation campaign and the willingness of some parts of the media fully embrace climate scepticism, conspiracy theorists have been given a major platform to espouse they’re all too frequently unchallenged views.

Conspiracy theories, to quote Christopher Hitchens, are the exhaust fumes of democracy. We see the anxieties and fears of our society expressed. They serve as a soothing and comforting narrative for individuals trying to make sense of the world.

The true story here is the one about human psychology and how global warming forces us to question the core values and infrastructure of our society: what does AGW mean for energy use, justice and sustainability?

Since the 1990s conspiracy theories have gained in popularity, due to the internet and the media embracing it as a genre:

Climate change denial is both an anti-science movement and a form of popular entertainment. Through its various blogs, YouTube videos, Op-Ed pieces and think tank studies it delivers a steady diet of counter knowledge in perfectly packaged sound bites and memes…

…In this it mimics other pop-cultural phenomena as “The Secret” and “The Da Vinci” code. It’s slickly produced, packaged and marketed counter knowledge.

And our mainstream media is complicit in its dissemination; either actively through the work of journalists as the HUN’s Andrew Bolt, or by attempting to be balanced and giving credibility to the movement in interviews and guest spots in the opinion pages of major dailies.

Over the next two weeks I’m going to focus on highlighting the culture of conspiracy that infects the Australian climate sceptics movement.

For too long there views have recieved scant critical attention. So get ready to learn about post-normal science, the coming general economic collapse, international bankers, socialist plots to take over the world…

Get ready for some fun.

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