“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts”- Democratic senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (cited in Rieder, 2014)
How do we know if the media is credible in what we read, hear and see? Or does the media just want to create a perception of balance in the coverage of an issue? . These are just many of the questions that arise when we think and concern ourselves with the topic of journalism ethics. This can particularly be seen with the debate of climate change reporting. Bud Ward the author of this week reading “Journalism ethics and climate change reporting in a period of intense media uncertainty”(2009) looks at these issues regarding journalism, climate change, news media and journalism ethics. Stating that (Ward, 2009,p.13) ethical consideration arises in all aspect of news and opinion writing. “Seek truth and report it” is the basis of the journalism ethics code according to the US-based Society of Professional Journalists first adopted in 1996 (Ward, 2009, p.13) “ Journalist should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information. Clear enough”(Ward, 2009,p.13). The SPJ code of Ethics (Ward, 2009,p.14) urges reporters to “give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid”. As Ward mentions (2009,p.14) journalist reporting on climate change has taken on what critics suggest a “false balance”, giving equal weight to unsupported or even discredited claims for the sake of appearing impartial (Heuvel, 2014). As Ward suggest (2009,p.14) reporters have been balancing opinion about science when they have meant to be evaluating and reporting evidence based on science.
Thus bringing us to the issue of Climate change, which has emerged over the last decade as a global crisis that has caused international coverage on the topic that is viewed as scientifically and politically contested according to Dreher & Voyer (2014,p.4). The issue of climate change has seen readers debating the “authenticity” and “reliability” on what is being reported by the media (Dreher &Voyer, 2014,p.4). This is what Dreher & Voyer (2014,p.4) call “scientific uncertainty frame”. This type of reporting can be seen with News outlets in countries such as Australia, Untied kingdom and the United States. All three having contributed their views to the uncertainty around climate change (Dreher & Voyer, 2014,p.4). By allowing climate change skeptics and environmental scientist equal airtime to remark on their views is considered to be giving their audience a balanced view on climate change, a good example of a balanced view can be seen with Fox News video “Is the climate change threat exaggerated”(2014). Which according to Heuvel (2014) Fox News “promised to weigh the evidence on both sides of the divisive topic”. Though this has not always been the case when it comes to News outlets for example The BBC News teams.
The BBC received criticism by providing a “false balance” by giving political opinion about climate change and scientific fact the same weight of coverage (Vidal, 2014). The Guardian (2014) illustrated that the BBC has “often resulted in inaccurate or misleading scientific coverage”(Vidal, 2014). The BBC today program covered the topic of floods with climatologist Brian Hoskin and politician Nigel Lawson (Bell, 2014). The today show responded back with “outdated and unscientific climate skepticism”(Bell, 2014). Alice Bell (2014) states “when people complain about the media reporting climate change with a skeptic vs. scientist narrative, journalists often respond that news needs drama and climate change is not just about the science”(Bell, 2014).
Though when we come back to Ward’s text (2009) he claims that “Journalists have profound ethical responsibilities covering issues as expansive and critical as climate change”(Ward, 2009,p.15). Especially because we are dealing with these issues in a time where we are seeing change in our media and of the uncertainty of global economics and finance (Ward, 2009,p.15). It’s easy to see why journalist have difficulties in abiding by ethical codes when it comes to climate change, especially when facts and personal opinions can become blurred. Though it is important that journalist address the issues of “false balance” to ensure they provide an accurate account and public awareness in acknowledging the harmful realties of climate change and it’s effects. “A journalist needs to have a measurable impact on an issue as important as global climate change”(Ward, 2009,p.15)
Here is some videos regarding the debates surrounding the topic of journalism ethics on climate change reporting , if you wanted to look more deeply into the topic : Russell Brand and the David Pakman Show
- Bell, A 2014, ‘The BBC is Failing to deliver a robust debate on climate change’, The guardian, 27th March, viewed 1st September, <http://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2014/mar/26/bbc-failing-robust-debate-climate-change>.
- Dreher, T., & Voyer, M. (2014). Climate Refugees or Migrants? Contesting Media Frames on Climate Justice in the Pacific. Environmental Communication, 1-19
- Heuvel, K 2014, ‘The distorting reality of ‘false balance’ in media ‘, The Washington Post, 15th July, viewed 1st September, <https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/katrina-vanden-heuvel-the-distorting-reality-of-false-balance-in-the-media/2014/07/14/6def5706-0b81-11e4-b8e5-d0de80767fc2_story.html>.
- Rieder, R 2014, ‘Climate change shows danger of ‘false balance’’, USA Today, 7th October
- Vidal, J 2014, ‘MPs criticize BBC for ‘False balance’ in climate change coverage’, The guardian, 2nd April, viewed 1st September, <http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/apr/02/mps-criticise-bbc-false-balance-climate-change-coverage>.
- Ward, B (2009) ‘Journalism ethics and climate change reporting in a period of intense media uncertainty’ Ethics in Science and Environmental Politics Vol 9, pp. 13 –15.