At the last count, more than 460 news and media partners claiming to represent 57 countries and a “reach” of two billion people had signed up to “ten tips of best practice to get the climate story right”.
The “partners” include various universities, newspapers, and non-governmental organisations, but also Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg, and Reuters. Other signatories are Al Jazeera, Rolling Stone, Teen Vogue, Scientific American, the Mail and Guardian in South Africa, and Huffington Post.
The “best practice” list is the handiwork of Covering Climate Now (CCN), founded in 2019 by the Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation, with The Guardian as the main partner. The Guardian has abandoned the term “climate change” for “climate emergency”. CCN seeks to collaborate with journalists in forging “an all newsroom approach to climate reporting”.
What then are the ten tips that will enable journalists to “get the climate story right”?
The first is “to say yes to the science”, which is a “matter of overwhelming global consensus”. Giving platforms to climate scepticism and denialism to “balance” news stories is inaccurate, misleads the public, and is “counterfactual if not rooted in bad faith”.
Second up is that the “climate crisis is a story for every beat”. “Whether you cover business, health, housing, education, food, national security, entertainment, or something else, there is always a strong climate angle to be found”. Emphasise the human-side, along with drama and conflict.
The third tip is to “emphasise” the experiences of “the poor, communities of colour, and indigenous people”, who suffer most from heat waves, floods, and other “climate impacts”.
The fourth tip is “ditch the Beltway he-said, she said”. The climate story should not be treated as a political dogfight.
Fifth up is to avoid “doom and gloom”. Sixth is to “go easy on the jargon”. Seventh is to “beware of greenwashing” by companies seeking to obscure “unmitigated carbon footprints”.
Number eight: “extreme weather stories are climate stories”. Much news coverage makes little or no mention of the climate connection in stories about hurricanes, floods, unseasonable snow dumps, record heatwaves, and drought. Audiences are this left without context and “unaware that humanity is already experiencing climate disruption”. Mentioning the climate connection is “a must”.
The ninth tip is to “jettison the outdated belief that climate coverage repels audiences and loses money”. This might have been true in the past, but now there is good evidence that strong climate coverage can actually boost a news outlet’s bottom line. The “climate emergency” is often “top-of-mind” for young audiences.
As for tip number ten: “For God’s sake, do not platform climate denialists. We understand as well as anyone that opinion pages occasionally need to push the envelope with unpopular takes. But there is no longer any good faith argument against climate science – and if one accepts the science, one also accepts the need for rapid, forceful action. Op-eds that detract from the scientific consensus, or ridicule climate activism, don’t belong in a serious news outlet.”
What to make of all this? Reminding journalists to beware of corporate “greenwashing” is sensible advice. But most of these “best practice tips” are nothing but advice on how to manipulate readers and deny them access to differing opinions, turning journalists and their newspapers into propagandists for the “right climate story”.
One of the key tips is that a climate angle, no matter how irrelevant or remote, must be inserted into every story. The international news magazine Time has already bought into this line of thinking: a recent issue had on its cover the headline “Climate is Everything”. It stated that “social scientists have crunched the data, illuminating how climate change will ripple across society, contributing to a surge in migration, reduced productivity, and a spike in crime”. The article reported that the White House was working “to infuse climate considerations into everything the [Biden] administration does”.
A climate angle is now often to be found in news stories on other issues, climate change being blamed for all sorts of phenomena, including the drying up of the Victoria Falls, maple syrup shortages, gender inequality, South Africa’s high homicide rate, bark beetle plagues in German forests, roads melting in Australia, and more violence against women and children. That’s in addition to all the other things, such as drowning islands and disappearing polar bears, which are now routinely blamed on global warming and/or climate change.
The whole thing is based on the claim – set out in tips number one and ten - that there is an “overwhelming global consensus”. There is no such thing, as this column pointed out on 12th April.
Tips numbers one and ten give the whole game away. Platforms must be denied to anyone who challenges the non-existent “consensus”. Not only must news stories on other matters be spiced up with climate angles, but sceptics and “denialists” must be denied the chance to present their views on op-ed pages.
The public are to be fed a relentless diet of climate propaganda. The climate is everything and only one viewpoint is to be given coverage. This is not journalism but a totalitarian mindset engaged in agitprop.
* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. Readers are invited to take a stand with the IRR by clicking here or sending an SMS with your name to 32823. Each SMS costs R1. Ts and Cs apply.