TV3 news hit one of its lows last night.Â Reporter and presenter Samantha Hayes was in Aitutaki in the Cook Islands for the visit of Greenpeaceâ€™s ship the Esmeralda on its Pacific climate impact tour, with Sign On ambassador Keisha Castle Hughes on board [Greenpeace release]. I was watching the news item with interest when I thought I heard the reporter saying â€œwhile the science is far from settledâ€¦â€.Â Since my hearing is not reliable I checked on the TV3 news website.Â I had heard aright.Â Here is the full sentence: â€œWhile the science is far from settled, Greenpeace is convinced that Aitutaki is on the front line of climate change.â€
I shot off an angry comment to TV3 without too much reflection.Â Iâ€™ve been wondering since how a news programme as significant as TV3â€™s could think it proper to include a caveat like that in the middle of their report, and decided to write a post on it.Â As I was under way an email arrived from the producer John Hale in reply to my comment.Â It answered my wondering. He referred to the significant body of informed opinion that disagrees with my position, and went on to say that 3news is not a vehicle for either lobby, but is expected to be balanced, fair and accurate. Â So there it is.Â The 3news team are still labouring under the impression that there is a serious scientific debate about the reality of anthropogenic climate change, and they must reflect that in their reporting.Â
One wonders how much longer journalists will carry on with this misapprehension, which is really just ignorance, not to say intellectual laziness.Â Is there no one in the news team there who has done enough reading to be aware of the overwhelming weight of scientific opinion?Â Do they perhaps just rely on web searches which obligingly produce any number of denialist websites?Â
It is a sobering reminder of how successful the denialist movement has been in muddying the issue, and of how vulnerable journalism is toÂ their tactics.Â I can apppreciate the pressure journalists may feel under, but I am impatient at the failure of major news organisations to develop enough independent understanding to know when they are being deceived.Â For heavenâ€™s sake, I think, do some reading, or at least take seriously the information that the worldâ€™s major scientific bodies endorse the findings of climate science.Â Does 3news regard them as a lobby to be set alongside the NZ Climate Science Coalition? Â Â Or does it just not know anything about the world of science? Â It needs to take stock of itself in this matter.
[Gareth adds: TV3 could — and should — take a leaf out of the BBC’s book. In this careful and nuanced consideration of how notions of balance apply to this issue, BBC correspondents Roger Harrabin and Richard Black explain:
Given the weight of opinion building up around the IPCC it makes sense for us to focus our coverage on the consensus that climate change is happening, is serious, but is manageable if tackled urgently.
We do not need consistently to â€˜balanceâ€™ the reports of the IPCC. When we broadcast outlying views we should make sure we do not over represent them and we should keep a rough balance of views from either side of the IPCC. If we do not, we will distort the issue and risk misleading or confusing our audience.
That was written in 2007.]