It cannot be often in the annals of journalism that several hundred "news outlets from around the world" sign up for a propaganda campaign and then proclaim that they have done so.
But this is what has happened over the past few months ever since the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), The Nation, and various climate activists got together in April to launch the "biggest effort ever undertaken to organise the world's press around a single topic", as a statement from the CJR put it. The undertaking is to "transform the news media" so as to "get this story right".
The "story" in question is that "climate change" is a "runaway train" racing towards us as "the world burns" and "civilisation accelerates towards disaster". This, so we are told, is not "alarmism", but "scientific fact". The purpose of the get-together was "to devise a new playbook for journalism that's compatible with the 1.5 degree future that scientists say must be achieved".
The "participating outlets" include Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse, the British Guardian, and the Mail and Guardian (M&G) and Daily Maverick in South Africa. Anyone perusing the last two of these would have noticed their extensive coverage of the United Nations (UN) climate action conference in New York last month in accordance with their commitment to "covering climate now".
The M&G's coverage across twelve pages was headed "climate crisis". The paper said that more than 300 publications had now committed themselves to covering "the climate crisis". One of its articles warned against the "alarming number" of videos on YouTube contradicting "the scientific consensus" and promoting "climate change denial". These offending videos racked up "a huge number of views". Nor was this the first time a tech company had propagated "bad science".
According to a statement put out by the CJR, one of the objectives of the campaign is to rectify the "false balance between the views of genuine scientists" and those of "paid corporate mouthpieces". The British magazine The Economist, which ran a 39-page report on "the climate issue" at the time of the UN conference, had a few weeks earlier denounced anyone seeking to "propagate an alternative reality in which climate science is always contestable" as "junk scientists".
Echoing the call by Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage climate activist, that we should all "panic" because of "climate change", The Economist said it would cause "global havoc". Long a proponent of "man-made climate change", and content to dismiss sceptics as "junk scientists", even that paper has had to admit to "uncertainties". Predicting how the climate "will evolve is fiendishly difficult". The models built by "supercomputers" are "crude" and among the things that handicap them is lack of knowledge about how carbon moves through the environment.
Echoing Ms Thunberg's call that we should all unite behind "the science", BusinessDay last month declared in an editorial that "the science about climate change is no longer disputed". This is factually incorrect. Numerous scientists around the world have repeatedly questioned some of the fundamental arguments put forward by climate lobbyists. They continue to do so.
Some dispute the theory that emissions of carbon dioxide caused by humans are the major cause of global warming. Some who accept a link dispute the opinion that apocalypse is imminent. Some dispute the argument that the "extreme weather events" currently being experienced in various parts of the world are anything out of the ordinary given that the climate has been changing for millions of years. In short, contrary to what BusinessDay thinks, sceptics have published numerous papers, articles, and books disputing "the science".
In any event, the idea that there could be a global consensus among scientists about something as complex as how the world's climate behaves is preposterous. Not long ago some of the most fervent promoters of man-made global warming were predicting the onset of another ice age. They also said it was necessary to get "loads of media coverage" by concealing their own "doubts" and offering up "scary scenarios".
The import of the "covering climate now" campaign is that numerous newspapers, news agencies, and other publications have signed up to promoting a one-sided and simplistic view of a contested, controversial, and complicated issue, with the purpose of creating alarm, whatever they might say to the contrary. The CJR stigmatises sceptics as paid mouthpieces of the "fossil-fuel industry". The Economist dismisses them as "junk scientists". BusinessDay airbrushes them out of existence. News outlets which publish the views of sceptics are denounced for not suppressing them.
In the issue before its twelve-pager on the "climate crisis" the Mail & Guardian ran an article by its editor-in-chief under the headline: "What we do is important. Trust us."
Why should we? Why should anyone trust the new "playbook" of climate journalism?
* 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.