By Steve Outing
Since I wrote an Editor & Publisher Online column recently about media coverage of climate change — and got a ton of flak about my views, much of it negative — I was intrigued to hear an NPR report, “News Corp. Sets ‘Green’ Goals,” earlier this week. The piece by talks about News Corp.’s new initiative — supported by Rupert Murdoch himself — to lessen the organization’s carbon footprint and influence public behavior.
The move by the parent company of conservative news network Fox News emphasizes such things as using the company’s entertainment offerings to influence people. For example, global warming/climate change references will be incorporated into plot lines of some Fox TV shows. The company recognizes that it can influence people with its popular and much-watched entertainment products into lessening their own carbon footprint and being aware of the problem. To that I say, bravo.
The initiative will not cross over to the news division, however. Indeed, Fox News’ conservative commentators like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly could be miffed at their boss’ initiative in other divisions, since they tend to side with and give voice to global warming skeptics.
I still find it odd that news organizations mostly refuse to go beyond their role of strictly reporting on and analyzing climate change news. Helping to avert planetary environmental disaster, I’d think, is a cause worth championing. (To reiterate, I am NOT talking about abandoning objective coverage of climate change; some critics seemed to think that’s what I have suggested.)
This column from a couple weeks ago by Mark Lynas, in New Statesman, is pretty close to my view. He’s commenting on the larger issue and a specific recent incident where the BBC cancelled a project called Planet Relief, which was a proposed day of climate change-related programming and entertainment modeled on Comic Relief. BBC Newsnight editor Peter Barron was quoted as saying in explaining the cancellation: “It is absolutely not the BBC’s job to save the planet.”
Wow. I find that attitude — which is clearly prevalent in the news industry — sad. Lynas responded eloquently:
“If Barron is really suggesting that the BBC should be ‘neutral’ on the question of planetary survival, his absurd stance surely sets a new low for political cowardice in the media. It is also completely inconsistent. On easy moral questions, such as poverty in Africa, the BBC is quite happy to campaign explicitly (as with Comic Relief or Live Aid), despite the claim by the corporation’s head of television news, Peter Horrocks, that its role is ‘giving people information, not leading them or prophesying.’ By analogy, the BBC would have been neutral on the question of slavery in the mid-19th century, and should be giving full voice today to the likes of the British National Party — all in the interests of balance and fairness. Likewise, it should not cover the plight of Aids orphans in South Africa without constantly acknowledging the views of the tiny minority who still dispute the link between HIV and Aids.”