Are Media Reporting Global Warming Too Objectively or Inhibiting Free Speech?

In the past couple of days, there have been two articles written about how the media are covering global warming.

In one, the author contended that the press are acting to inhibit free speech by exclusively reporting one side of the climate change issue as they castigate skeptics as deniers and operatives of the oil industry.

By contrast, another article suggested that the press in their attempts to appear objective are not doing a good enough job stressing the dire nature of global warming, and should be taking a much stronger position as advocate for the supposed consensus.

Presenting the inhibiting free speech view was Christopher Lingle, a research scholar at the Center for Civil Society in New Delhi and professor of economics at Universidad Francisco Marroquin in Guatemala (h/t Benny Peiser, emphasis added):

What's up with journalists in the mainstream media? In most cases, they tend to be unconditional supporters of free expression and strive to report on controversial views.

However, reporting on issues relating to global warming has become strikingly one-sided. With no need to persuade using rational argument, a new conventional wisdom is being formulated that is beyond challenge by "sensible" people.

Creating group-think and mass behavior should be anathema to honest journalists. Otherwise, reporters become opinion makers rather than neutral observers.

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Demonizing or ridiculing those that doubt the extent and cause of climate change has a chilling effect on free speech that makes open, rational debate almost impossible.

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When scientific data are presented as "facts," disagreement and inquiry are discouraged. But honest scientific investigation requires the assumption of falsifiability whereby no issue or conclusion is considered settled or beyond continuous investigation and experimentation.

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Instead of attacking researchers that seek to challenge the status quo view on global warming, journalists should investigate the motives of the global-warming alarmists.

Consider scientists that follow the "scientific consensus" line. They have a strong incentive to do so to gain access to billions of dollars of public funds for studies into global warming.

Meanwhile, politicians use "fear" to soften up citizens so that they willingly give up more hard-earned income to pay carbon taxes.

Interesting points all, wouldn't you agree?

Yet, Editor & Publisher's Steve Outing took the contrary view that media aren't doing enough to spread alarmism, and shouldn't strive to be objective on this issue at all (emphasis added):

I've also been thinking about the newspaper industry and global warming. And frankly, I don't think newspapers are doing enough. Indeed, newspapers' fabled commitment to "objectivity" has been a detriment to efforts to combat global warming.

The industry still has a lot of power to influence people. How about if newspapers abandon their old way of doing things when it comes to the issue of global warming, and turn their influence to good?

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When the evidence is so overwhelming to support the idea that humans are changing the climate, why should the news industry give the tiny number of skeptics a higher percentage of time within a news report on their viewpoint than they deserve?

It's probably not a perfect analogy, but with a tiny number of people in the U.S. supporting polygamy (estimated at 37,000 living in the Western U.S.), news organizations don't tend to give a lot of space to polygamists explaining why their lifestyle is a good thing and should be allowed.

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The good professor would seem to support my idea that newspapers' sacred commitment to journalistic objectivity perhaps is hindering the power of the press to impact humans' behavior, because in the name of objectivity, reporters must give equal time to the tiny minority of skeptics and not go too far out on a limb to declare that climate change indeed is caused by humankind.

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As long as news organizations keep alive the idea that there's still a "debate" about whether human-induced climate change is real or not, people have an excuse for not changing their behavior.

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Advocacy has gotten a bad name in modern news media. I would argue that climate change is too important of an issue squander the power of the news media. Newspapers can and should not only educate people about what they can do, but pro-actively lead and encourage behavior change. That will mean setting aside a time-honored journalistic practice -- for this one vital issue.

Which view do you agree with?

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.