Reuters Whitewashes Kyoto's Inconvenient Truth in Factbox

What does it say about Reuters' environmental coverage when the news organization can't even get a basic “factbox” correct?

This March 31 Reuters “factbox” was supposed to explain “What is the Kyoto Protocol?” Instead, the media conglomerate pushed a biased eco-agenda and omitted anything that cast a negative light on the treaty or revealed problems. There was no mention of Kyoto participants failing to meet their targets or Japan trying to renegotiate because Kyoto is harming its economy. Reuters failed to report that greenhouse gas emissions are rising in the European Union and in many Kyoto-participating countries, such as Canada. Some, like Austria and Great Britain, are actually doing worse than the US in emissions growth. By skewing the data included in this factbox, Reuters massaged data to fit an agenda and crossed into advocacy journalism.

Reuters began by framing the US as the bad guy (all bold mine):

* SO IT IS LEGALLY BINDING?

-- Kyoto has legal force from February 16, 2005. The United States, long the world's biggest source of emissions but which is being surpassed by China, came out against the pact in 2001. President George W. Bush reckoned it would be too expensive and wrongly omits 2012 emissions targets for developing nations.

I guess claiming the US “is being surpassed by China” is progress for Reuters. Even though others in the media report that China passed the US in 2007 as the number one carbon emitter, Reuters has been reluctant to put China at the top of the list. Maybe criticizing China doesn't pack the same punch as criticizing America.

Reuters used careful wording to make it seem that because of Bush, the US just suddenly “came out against the pact in 2001.” Reuters ignored that Bush's position is a continuation of Clinton/Gore administration policies and that the US is bound by the Byrd-Hagel Resolution; Byrd-Hagel bars America from joining Kyoto, as currently written, because it “would result in serious harm to the economy to the United States.” It's much easier to make it seem like Bush is the only obstacle to a global environmental panacea. 

By only mentioning Bush, Reuters made it seem that only the US has issues with Kyoto, ignoring that many of the countries that did sign and ratify Kyoto are also complaining, usually about the treaty's significant economic impact. Countries are worried that enforcing targets would devastate economies while high-emitting developing nations like China, India and Brazil are exempt, giving them an advantage.

More important than what Reuters said about Kyoto was what it didn't say:

* HOW WILL IT BE ENFORCED?

-- Countries overshooting their targets in 2012 will have to make both the promised cuts and 30 percent more in a second period from 2013.

(...)

* HOW WILL COUNTRIES COMPLY?

-- The European Union set up a market in January 2005 under which about 12,000 factories and power stations are given carbon dioxide quotas. If they overshoot they can buy extra allowances in the market or pay a financial penalty; if they undershoot they can sell them.

Reuters's positive phrasing made it seem that countries failing to meet their goals is merely hypothetical. There is no mention of nations such as Japan, Italy, Ireland and Spain facing huge fines because they underestimated their economic growth and resulting emissions as well as the major burden on taxpayers.

Again, Reuters presented a Pollyanna description without also including the problems:

* WHAT OTHER MECHANISMS ARE THERE?

-- Developed countries can earn credits to offset against their targets by funding clean technologies, such as solar power, in poorer countries. They can also have joint investments in former Soviet bloc nations.

Countries like China and India are gaming the system and deliberately creating certain greenhouse gases, like HFC 23, a hydrofluorocarbon that destroys the ozone layer, so that developed nations will pay them to stop. Surely, Reuters was aware of this practice, it was one of the only media sources that initially reported it.

This isn't the impartial reporting of facts, whether negative and positive, about Kyoto; this is advocacy journalism designed to sway opinion and doesn't belong in the media. 

Lynn contributes to NewsBusters and can be emailed at tvisgoodforyou2-at-y a h o o-dot-c o m