Thursday, January 06, 2011

Australian floods: Fair and balanced coverage

This video is long, but it’s worth watching all (or most) of it. It does the best job I’ve yet seen of explaining both why the Australian floods are happening, and especially the larger issue of climate change: What it is, what it means, where the areas of disagreement are.

The remarkable thing about this video, I think, is that it doesn’t pander to climate change deniers (or the lunatic fringe) as American news media usually do. That means that they don’t present the discussion as one of “climate change is happening v. climate change is a hoax” like most US-based news media do. Instead, they take for granted that it’s happening—as the vast majority of real, credible scientists do—and seek to explain what climate scientists are actually discussing. That means in-depth talk about the value of differing climate models, what they could mean for weather, those sorts of things (which most of us have trouble understanding, partly because we’re seldom told about it by the news media).

The fact that this fair and balanced coverage should come from Al-Jazeera, which the Bush/Cheney regime seriously considered bombing in order to shut it down, is all the more ironic.

The US news media’s illusory obsession with “balance” does a massive disservice to news consumers because it leaves them spectacularly ill informed and believing that everything is a debate between two equal sides. I frequently criticise this new media obsession and will continue to do so.

Fairness in news reporting demands that varying—but not necessarily all—viewpoints are presented and discussed, as this video did. Fairness does not require that every viewpoint be given equal time. Al-Jazeera did a great job of showing how this can be done; the BBC often does that, lately CNN has been doing it more and Fox never does.

Obviously there’s room for political discussion on climate change that could include conservatives (religious or not). But the lazy approach of the US news media (and that of much of the West, actually) is to have all discussions on the topic centre on the legitimacy of climate change itself. That leaves news consumers with no idea of what climate change really is, what it could mean and what, if anything, can be done about it. That sort of discussion is a scientific debate, and it’s one that conservative political and religious activists simply aren’t qualified to be part of.

Democracy cannot function, or even survive, without an informed citizenry. The news media have an important role to play in that. They simply must do better.

A Tip o’ the Hat to Roger Green for pointing me to the video.

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

I thought it was a story you'd appreciate. It's strange - all this weather of "Biblical proportions". If there IS an climate equivalent of Armageddon, it'll be of our own making