The Australian’s own jaundiced view of climate science

In The Australian newspaper today, writer Chris Kenny clambers on to an arthritic hobby horse (and then climbs down to step into a glass house) to accuse the Australian Broadcasting Corporation of being “jaundiced and counter-productive” on its coverage of climate change.

Someone should give Kenny a job on a stone fruit orchard, such is his ability to pick cherries.

You can read his piece here.

Attempting to justify his argument, Kenny picks through a random selection of stories and issues to suggest the ABC is biased. For example:

When the ABC broadcast Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth* there was plenty of attendant publicity, sympathetic coverage and acclaim. But when it broadcast another side of the debate, The Great Global Warming Swindle, the ABC issued a disclaimer and followed it with an interview and panel discussion, largely debunking the program.

The ABC showed the Great Global Warming Swindle more than four years ago. The reason the program was “largely debunked” was because… well.. it has been largely debunked!

Kenny criticises the ABC for apparently lauding environmental scientist Tim Flannery “as an honest broker”. Yet The Australian regularly turns to “experts” on climate science or policy who have a clear and stated ideological or industry view (step forward, the Institute for Public Affairs, the Australian Coal Association and the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association).

What other evidence of this ABC bias?

Kenny could have cited a recent study by Monash University academics Philip Chubb and Chris Nash that found that when climate science denier Lord Christopher Monckton toured Australia in 2010, he was mentioned 47 times on the ABC with saturation coverage. This compared to the visit shortly after from Dr James Hansen, a NASA climate scientist, who managed just 5 mentions on the ABC and not a single television appearance.

You can read the Chubb/Nash study on the website “Friends of the ABC”.

To justify his own jaundiced position, Kenny searches around for snippets of statements from somewhere on the ABC (he doesn’t say where the statements came from, who wrote them, whether they were quotes, whether they were opinion pieces… etc).

Kenny concludes by saying the ABC should take a “sober, evidence-based discussion and analysis” on climate change.

This, from a newspaper that called for the Greens to be “destroyed at the ballot box”.

This, from a newspaper that runs coal industry-funded research on its front page as if it’s actually news (with 120 words of “balance” in a 1080-word story).

This, from a newspaper that worked with the Institute for Public Affairs on a story at how environment groups were being funded by Government grants, without having the backbone to question who was funding the IPA.

This, from a newspaper that believes swimmers in budgie smugglers know more about sea-level rise than scientists who have spent decades studying the issue.

This, from a newspaper which wins awards for its climate change coverage from the oil and gas industry’s peak body.

This, from a newspaper which describes people who say firm action should be taken on climate change as  “prophets of doom”, “greenhouse hysterics” and “hair-shirted greenhouse penitents”.

This, from a newspaper that runs four stories saying nothing much should be done about climate change for every story saying the opposite.

This, from a newspaper which allows two of its writers to sit on an editorial board of a publisher which makes a specialty of printing books from climate science deniers.

This, from a newspaper which became so deaf to its own misrepresentation on climate science that Australia’s most senior climatologist stopped bothering to correct them.

This, from a newspaper that consistently runs opinion pieces on the science of climate change from people who have never managed to get a peer-reviewed paper published on climate change science.

This, from a newspaper that describes an oil and gas industry veteran with no peer-reviewed publications on climate change as a “climate change researcher” at a university which said he wasn’t doing any climate change research there.

So yes Chris Kenny, a little “sober evidenced-based discussion and analysis” might be a good thing.

For a fuller catalogue of The Australian newspaper’s record on climate science try Deltoid’s “War on Science” series (now up to 74 for The Australian) or Robert Manne’s analysis in the Quarterly Essay.

*UPDATE: Whoops. It turns out Chris Kenny was wrong on this one. I’ve just checked with the ABC and a spokesman has confirmed that “The ABC never actually showed An Inconvenient Truth in full”. It makes Kenny’s argument look even more spurious than it was before, given that the ABC did show The Great Global Warming Swindle but didn’t show An Inconvenient Truth!  The copy online has changed without a note detailing the initial error. His story now reads

When the ABC broadcast (excerpts, reviews and interviews about) Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth there was plenty of attendant publicity, sympathetic coverage and acclaim. But when it broadcast another side of the debate, The Great Global Warming Swindle, the ABC issued a disclaimer and followed it with an interview and panel discussion, largely debunking the program.

Yet it was An Inconvenient Truth that was found by a British court to contain inconvenient errors, such as false claims about islands being evacuated and exaggerations about rising sea levels.

Kenny does, however, make the clarification on his blog.

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Author: Graham

Graham Readfearn is a Brisbane-based journalist. Go to the About page in the top navigation for more information.