Ofcom’s recent ruling that Channel 4 broke editorial rules in a climate change documentary underscores the difficulty journalists face in reporting on green issues and throws a spotlight on the near-impossible task of untangling the conflicting theories and attitudes regarding the environment.
The documentary at the centre of the controversy was, at first viewing, compelling. The evidence appeared plausible and the programme provided an alternative understanding of the green debate.
But following a catalogue of complaints, Ofcom ruled the makers of The Great Global Warming Swindle had misrepresented the views of a group of scientists and had subsequently failed to act with ‘due impartiality”.
Clearly interviews and quotes can never be sliced and diced, taken out of context and used to reflect a differing meaning. But Channel 4’s fallout with Ofcom highlights the media’s dilemma when it comes to covering stories about the environment.
We have a responsibility, among other things, to be balanced, objective and fair, to inform, educate and engage. But journalists, who do a fantastic job in promoting the need for change, shouldn’t be solely accountable in making sense of the climate debate.
Advertisers, marketing executives and PR officials also have a collective duty of care to provide relevant and accurate environmental information and reduce the existing confusion.
Recently, the editorial team at Greenwire were following up a story lead that Dartford Council was lining up a bid to be crowned European Green Capital, against more glamorous rivals such as Vienna, Madrid and Prague.
Despite receiving the lead from the EU press centre in Brussels, the team met a wall of silence when following up with the bemused communication department at Dartford Council. They were completely at a loss to explain it, insisting: ‘They must be referring to another Dartford somewhere in Europe”.
The story turned out to be correct, but the encounter typifies the haphazard support the media receives when following up stories on environmental issues or sustainability.
Organisations are quick to grab the opportunity of editorial space when it suits them, but when it comes to objectively explaining and contributing to the debate they are often far too reluctant. And, as always, it’s the media that is left to carry the green can.
Stuart Qualtrough is the editorial director for environmental news agency Greenwire