Friday, September 10, 2010

Groupthink, Sensationalism, Naive and Inept Journalism: Climate coverage at the ABC- Part 1.

Groupthink, Sensationalism, Naive and Inept Journalism: Climate coverage at the ABC- Part 1.

This is part one of a four part series looking at Climate coverage at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

On ABC’s opinion site The Drum, so called “Public Intellectual” Clive Hamilton suggests the ABC has been infested by a nest of climate “deniers”. According to Clive, Auntie has handed editorial control of her climate change coverage to a bunch of extremists from the far right. It’s a pity he forgot to provide any evidence to back his claims. Even the most superficial look under Auntie’s skirt reveals nothing to substantiate the right wing conspiracy alluded to, just everyday sensationalism, along with plenty of examples of naive and inept journalism, operating under an umbrella of Groupthink in which Auntie’s reporters have closed their eyes to the on-going scientific debate raging around them.

Auntie’s main problem is not opinion sites like The DRUM that has given Clive Hamilton a handy megaphone, and also posted a range of views from climate experts and non-experts alike; even finding room for my pieces on Mr Gore, Prince Tim and the Climate Dementors. THE DRUM is a side show, the main problem is Auntie’s news and science reporting that continues to let its loyal audience down.

It does this in a number of ways. Firstly the natural inclination of the media, particularly government sponsored news agencies, to favour alarm over calm, results in stories with screeching headlines such as Oceans on brink of mass extinction: study, or Climate check-up 'screams world is warming' getting prominence over less sensationalist stories such as Is climate change new (and bad)? ABC looks at the science through its Groupthink looking glass, cherry picking those science stories that can be beaten up to provide the scariest headlines that agree with its reporters alarming world view. The considered restraint of sceptical scientists simply does not attract as much attention, and all too often news of their less sensational findings end up on the copy room floor.

Secondly, certain ABC reporters seem to be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome when it comes to interviewing scientists promoting climate alarm. They appear so besotted they are failing to properly scrutinize experts and authoritative documents like IPCC assessments and government reports. They put their faith in authority without bothering to properly verify the facts, the way journalists did in the good old days. In doing so they act as echo chambers spreading misconceptions and exaggerations in the process.

Thirdly, bias in ABC climate reporting is not so much due to a grand conspiracy of misguided amateurish environmental activists acting as reporters, though it seems many now walk the corridors of ABC’s head office, but stems from ineptitude. As Napoleon Bonaparte suggested “Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.”

Over the next 3 posts we will examine each of these points in more detail starting with Cherry picking the science in part 2.


  1. Good analysis Marc. Paul Barry on Media Watch has set himself up as watcher over The Australian, especially their antagonism to the Greens. Who watches the watchers? Keep up the good work.

  2. Thank goodness someone is raising the focus on the ABC and its bias(es). As a taxpayer I am disappointed I have to seek other channels to obtain unbiased reporting. It defeats me as to why so many ABC people take a position on climate change issues almost to the point of being part of the news rather than reporting it. Tony Jones and his smirking, antagonistic interviews of Ian Plimer are classic examples. The depth of bias in the Commission suggests it will take a long time to correct ..if ever.


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