An academic attacks a BBC analyst for being the government’s ‘propaganda mouthpiece’

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Joshua Funnell

Dr Julia Steinberger, an associate professor in ecological economics at the University of Leeds, has launched a no-holds-barred attack on the BBC and its environment analyst, Roger Harrabin.

Turning up the heat on the BBC coverage of the climate crisis

Steinberger reacted to Harrabin’s coverage of the ‘Extinction Rebellion’ protests for the BBC. The direct action was conducted with the intention of encouraging mass public resistance to stop climate catastrophe.

However, some people felt that the BBC’s coverage belittled the protests and granted undue credibility to the government’s actions on climate change:

Steinberger then launched into an uncompromising critique of Harrabin in his role as BBC environmental analyst:

Steinberger gave the BBC and Harrabin an alternate expert opinion on government ‘propaganda’. She claims that both the BBC and government are fundamentally failing to grasp the existential threat climate change poses.

Her thread is damning and worth reading in its entirety:

Harrabin’s provocation

Here’s an example of Harrabin’s coverage that lead to criticism from Steinberg and others:

Firstly, note how he describes the intentions of protestors as to cause “mayhem”. This evokes images of an unruly rabble without strategic political objectives. On the contrary, the protesters are trying to avoid climate mayhem by triggering a radical political transformation.

Secondly, Harrabin lists a number of government policies that serve to cast doubt on accusations that the government is failing to address climate change. But he presents a limited evaluation of the government’s performance, which is effectively in its favour. Harrabin also offers no credible academic expert opinion to challenge government policy and its performance.

In short, government public relations (aka propaganda) take centre stage with extremely limited critical analysis.

Harrabin praising Gove?

Further, in a tweet on 16 November, he seemed to praise environment minister Michael Gove:

However, this did not go unchallenged:

Harrabin’s positive account of Gove came despite no hard government assurances to maintain essential environmental protections post-Brexit. Gove also missed a “key international summit on climate change” just after the release of a terrifying UN IPCC (United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report. It warned of the need for:

rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.

The BBC impartiality fallacy

This reporting essentially downplays the severity of the climate crisis and gives a false impression that the government is taking sufficient action. It also suggests to the reader that there is an absence of credible expert opinion critical of the government’s performance. These issues combined conceal the fact that radical action is needed to avert planetary decimation; and that, currently, such action is desperately lacking.

UK media watchdog Media Lens spelt out the absurdity of this situation in its new book Propaganda Blitz:

By largely presenting government policy uncritically and suggesting that the UK is on track to deal with the problem by 2050, Harrabin is downplaying the seriousness of the existential catastrophe that awaits if we do not take radical action now.

Let’s hope that more experts like Steinberger come forth and call out media complicity as our species continues to sleepwalk to climate oblivion.

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