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:
Interesting report on the @ExtinctionR protests on @BBCNews today… giving @RHarrabin the mic to belittle the protests and tell us the UK is happily on track to 80% CO2 reductions by 2050 with business as usual and a couple of electric cars thrown in hmm… #climatebreakdown
Continue reading below...
— Kate Marriott (@KateMarriott8) November 17, 2018
Steinberger then launched into an uncompromising critique of Harrabin in his role as BBC environmental analyst:
Ok, it's official folks. Roger Harrabin, @RHarrabin, the @BBC's environmental analyst, is not fit to hold his job of trust with the public broadcaster. He doesn't understand the science, the policy, the politics or his own responsible role as a communicator. Buckle up: thread 1/ https://t.co/i6WX7ldMuP
— Dr Steinberger 🌍🌱🌹 ClimateAction & FightFascism (@JKSteinberger) November 18, 2018
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:
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:
The #environment has shot up the agenda under @michael Gove. I can’t imagine any substitute having the same impact if he quits. @CraigBennett3 @johnsauven @WWF_UK_Politics @WildlifeTrusts @CPRE @nationaltrust @NFUtweets @GeorgeMonbiot @agrice5 @DimitriHoutart @tomheapmedia
— roger harrabin (@RHarrabin) November 16, 2018
However, this did not go unchallenged:
Yep – environment shot. Billions more 4 airports. Billions more 4 roads. Billions more in toxic fuel duty cuts. 1000s losing jobs in solar, onshore wind, energy efficiency. #ExtinctionRebellion Your tweet sums up all that is wrong with BBC climate failure. #ClimateMediaCoalition
— Donnachadh McCarthy (@DonnachadhMc) November 18, 2018
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:
Extract from 'Propaganda Blitz':
'We are literally talking about the end of human life as we know it. And the corporate media, politicians, business and modern societies carry on regardless. If this doesn’t equate to madness, we don’t know what does.'#ExtinctionRebellion pic.twitter.com/RzrmT2b9Bd
— Media Lens (@medialens) November 19, 2018
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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Featured images by Tim Loudon/Flickr
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