Corporate-controlled media outlets have figured out that debate, or more appropriately heated debate and confrontation, can generate larger audiences than a bunch of people sitting around a table agreeing with one another. And this can work for some topics, such as the best way to tackle immigration reform or how to reduce the federal budget deficit.
But when faced with an issue that clearly only has one side, the corporate media continues to parade anti-reality talking heads into their studios, hoping that they can help boost ratings. That is what has happened with the issue of climate change.
The American media have not been the only guilty parties. Media outlets in other parts of the world have been just as willing to put climate change deniers on television to spread misinformation about an issue that will effect the lives of all of earth’s inhabitants.
But unlike the American media, outlets in the rest of the world have realized that the issue of climate change is far too important to allow deniers on their networks to attack the scientific consensus with no actual evidence.
This month, the BBC instructed its reporters to stop giving credence to climate change deniers on the air. The network said that they do want to remain neutral on scientific issues, but that there is a very real distinction between neutrality and false balance. Think Progress explains the difference between the two:
Editorially, this type of debate makes the network look like it’s being balanced, giving equal opportunity to opposite viewpoints. However, because 95 to 97 percent of climate scientists agree that man-made greenhouse gas emissions are causing the planet to warm, that balance is false, giving disproportionate time to a viewpoint that is widely rejected in the scientific community.
Think Progress also pointed out that the “false balance” trap is what has plagued American media for years. The idea is that putting one scientist against a climate change denier creates a balance, even though one guest is backed by science and the other is not. As John Oliver recently pointed out, an honest “debate” about climate change would involve 97 scientists versus 3.
The BBC is not the first outlet that has tried to weed out climate change deniers. In 2012, the government of Australia forced conservative radio host Alan Jones to take a fact-checking seminar after he repeatedly told his listeners that climate change was a farce, and that there was no sound science on the subject.
American media outlets, on the other hand, not only tolerate anti-science viewpoints, but embrace them. A recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists showed that cable news giants CNN and Fox News reported incorrect information about climate change in 33% and 72% of their coverage of the issue, respectively.
In the days and weeks following the release of the federal government’s climate change report earlier this year, Media Matters showed that CNN cast doubt on the report in 19% of their coverage. Additionally, Fox News referred to the report, and climate change in general, as “the oldest superstition around.” In total, 86% of the guests invited onto cable news shows to discuss the report were not scientists.
Cable news outlets are not the only media forums that are guilty of giving deniers a microphone: Print media is equally guilty.
In response to the recent UN IPCC report, 18% of print media casted doubt on the subject, while 10% remained “neutral” via false balance. Those numbers do not account for all print media, just a selection from a Media Matters report that looked at Bloomberg News, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times.
The move by the BBC to shut out climate change deniers is a bold step, but a necessary one. The science is clear on human-caused global warming, and the longer we allow deniers to confuse the public about the issue, the more irreversible damage will be caused by our inaction.