My childhood was spent in an era before the internet, before smartphones, before 24/7 news, and before multiple TV channels. I was at university when UK residents were able to watch a fourth channel for the first time – Channel 4, needless to say – and I remember that friends and I were perplexed by its appearance. After all, we already had three TV channels, so why on earth did we need a fourth? Looking back to those times now from today’s Britain, with dozens, even hundreds, of channels to choose from, especially if one is prepared to pay for subscription TV, that view might seem remarkably naïve. Then again, observing how difficult it can be to find anything at all of interest to watch on TV, maybe the teenage me had a point after all.
Newspapers were much more relevant then than they are now. TV and radio news was limited. And, as I’ve already said, there was no internet. Reading a newspaper was probably the best way to find out what was going on, both within the UK and around the world. Having qualified in my chosen profession, the slightly older, but still young, version of me duly bought the Guardian every day to read during the 12 mile train journey to and from work. Perhaps memories fade with time and become suffused with a rosy glow, but I seem to remember a lot of serious journalism then, with investigative reporters taking the time and trouble to research important issues and to write up the conclusions with care. TV and radio news seemed to report simply on events that had just happened or which were ongoing – often very sad stories about wars, earthquakes, floods, droughts, famines, etc. – without much “spin” (though I have to acknowledge that the reporting around the Ethiopian famine of 1983-85 was designed to – and did – tug at the heartstrings, aided by Bandaid. Maybe that was where the media began to get the taste for celebrity news items).
Today it feels as though a newspaper’s website is as important as its print version, and that the BBC’s website is as important as its TV and radio programming. Perhaps it’s just my perception, but as the internet has increasingly become dominant, and with the advent of rolling news channels on TV, a glorious opportunity to inform and educate seems to have been lost, and the quality of journalism to have declined. Websites and 24/7 news channels offer the prospect of news updates from around the world, of education and information on a whole host of subjects, news from places that we rarely hear about. The BBC’s News 24 channel could be a marvellous source of all of the above, but is instead a prime example of a lost opportunity. Yes, it does offer local news and programmes such as “Outside Source”, but even that does little more than “gather the latest information as it arrives from news wires, video feeds and social media on the biggest stories of the day”. And local news on the BBC seems to be guaranteed to include a story about a struggle somewhere within the public sector (usually, but not invariably, the NHS), a lot of sport, and usually a bit of climate hysteria.
The climate hysteria I refer to regularly seems to be generated by a press release from one of the numerous “green” organisations who are increasingly skilful at issuing reports designed to make life easy for news organisations, who need do little more than “cut & paste”, maybe making a tweak or two here and there, and hey presto, a puff piece is suddenly “news”.
By way of example, I have just conducted an internet search using four key words/acronyms and a year and nothing else – the words/acronyms and date being “BBC” “2021” “climate” and “study”. The result came as no surprise, the following stories from the BBC’s website being prominent in the search results (in order of appearance, and otherwise completely random, all from 2021): “Climate change: Animals shapeshifting to stay cool, study says”; “Climate change: IPCC report is ‘code red for humanity’”; “Global heating: Study shows impact of ‘climate racism’ in US”; “Climate change: Young people very worried – survey” (The survey was conducted by Bath University); “Carbon emitters ‘failing to disclose climate risks’” (this one was as a result of a “study, conducted by the independent charity group-funded Carbon Tracker and the Climate Accounting Project (CAP))”; “COP26: Emissions of rich put climate goals at risk – study” (OXFAM “commissioned the study from the Stockholm Environment Institute and the Institute for European Environmental Policy”); “Ocean’s climate change ‘buffer’ role under threat” (University studies carried out for “i-Atlantic” project); “Coastal saltmarsh ‘engineered’ to fight climate change” (not reported particularly clearly – despite the press release! – but it seems to be a St Andrews University study); and “Warmer coastline impacts wildlife, Plymouth study shows”.
I could go on and on (and on and on), but the above completely random selection supplies the general idea. Universities are particularly good at generating publicity in this way, and charities like OXFAM, who are keen to push climate alarmism to the forefront of the news agenda, are also experts at commissioning studies to generate reports that can be turned into press releases which in turn can generate “news” items, thus guaranteeing that the issues that they want to be prominent in mainstream media news reporting duly receive a lot of publicity. Surveys and opinion polls, too, can be and are used to generate publicity that bears little relation to reality, as I discussed in “Poll-Axed”i.
There are several interesting takeaways from this small and not very scientific experiment. Firstly, many of the studies are carried out by people or organisations with an agenda. Of themselves, it is strongly arguable that they are not, in any objective sense, “news”. However, by packaging the result in a press release, they are able to generate headlines, and suddenly a pre-planned study, often conducted deliberately to achieve a result with attendant publicity, has become “news”, and is pushed at the public in that sense. In the case of the BBC, a report or study will often be used to justify a story on its website, which will then segue into something like: “If global temperatures rise by more than 1.5C, scientists say the earth is likely to experience severe effects such as millions more people being exposed to extreme heat.” That phrase (or variants on the theme) is to be found time and time again within articles such as these. It conveniently ignores the fact that worldwide many more people die of extreme cold each year than of extreme heat, and that warming is reducing the number of deaths each year from temperature extremes. To that extent it could, perhaps, be described as climate misinformation (see below, and see also “Losing The Plot”ii).
Secondly, it’s worth making an internet search for each of the article headings thrown up by the first search, and doing so separately, one by one. A great number of identical, or substantially similar, headings will be thrown up, in a plethora of other news websites, which have also simply regurgitated the press release, either without amendment, or with just a tweak or two. Thus the study, by the simple expedient of despatching a well-worded press release, generates headlines, not once, but numerous times, across many news organisations, programmes and websites. Needless to say, it’s great for “journalists” because they don’t have to do much, if anything at all, to produce a “news item” based on the press release.
A small postscript to this section, a variation on the theme of press releases. Politicians and others have become increasingly adept at manipulating the media and ensuring that the publicity they crave is generated several times over, by pre-releasing snippets of speeches to be made later in the day or later in the week. It is a commonplace of news reporting now to hear or to read something along the lines of “XYZ is expected to be announced later today by the Prime Minister” or “the Leader of the Opposition is scheduled to attack the Government for its handling of ABC”. Then, later on, when the Prime Minister has indeed made his announcement, or the Leader of the Opposition has made his attack, the story is reported on for a second time.
It’s not just the news
CliScep readers have, I think, already had their attention drawn briefly to a 36 page reported headed “The Power of TV: Nudging Viewers to Decarbonise their Lifestyles”iii. Sub-titled “An evidence-based guide for broadcasters” it is published by The Behavioural Insights Team (BIT)iv, having been commissioned by Sky. Chillingly (in view of the contents of the report) BIT is ”jointly owned by the UK Cabinet Office, innovation charity Nesta and our employees.v”
It seems it’s not enough that news programming and websites are dominated by climate change stories, many of which are highly repetitive pieces, with the same tired old tropes trotted out again and again, tagged on to new “stories” based on yet more studies, surveys or rigged opinion polls. In addition, all programmes are to be subtly changed so as to ensure subliminal messaging, with a view to altering our behaviours, without our even realising what’s going on. From the Foreword:
Societal-level behaviour change is needed to tackle climate change. It turns out that the majority of global future emissions reductions depend on us reducing our demand for high-carbon activities and materials and taking up new low-carbon technologies, according to the International Energy Agency. From changing what we buy and what we eat, to changing the technologies we use to heat our homes and travel, reaching Net Zero is conditional on large numbers of people taking up green behaviours and products.
And, broadly speaking, the conclusion is:
Broadcast organisations and content creators therefore have a unique opportunity to make a difference for the planet. Through the programs [sic] that they produce, the characters that they create, the plot-lines that they develop, and the adverts that they broadcast, content creators have the potential to have a far-reaching impact on the knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of citizens, and to spark conversations in boardrooms and political arenas alike. They are also pivotally placed to help people sift through the maze of choices and claims, to adopt behaviours – and products – that can get us to a greener future. The question of how to best promote a low-carbon future through television, phone, and laptop screens is still up for grabs. However, whilst further behavioural research is needed, it is important that we start a conversation about what we know so far. It’s time we ask ourselves, how can broadcasters do their best in the race against climate change? How can we nudge viewers to decarbonise their lifestyle on screen?
And how do they do propose doing that?
“Use credible and relatable green messengers. To convince viewers to take up green actions, characters, presenters, and talent must be trustworthy and relatable role models. Promote intergenerational spillover with kids content. Broadcasters should use kids’ content to encourage positive environmental behaviours amongst children – and their parents. Make it implicit with background action. Use green product placement and model green actions in the background to improve familiarity and create positive attitudes and norms. Promote green choices through adverts and reviews. Ensure adverts and product reviews promote green products and behaviours, where possible.”
The report is riddled with hints like these:
Having characters demonstrate familiar and low-effort pro-environmental behaviours by default. For example, characters could take the following actions, unless it is at odds with the setting, plot, or their character: — Use reusable water bottles, rather than disposable plastic ones — Choose public transport and active travel Showing select characters demonstrating other (potentially less common) green behaviours, in cases where it feels appropriate and in-line with their personality (e.g. creators might determine that it is fitting for a character who cares about animals to be shown eating vegan food). Example green behaviours might include: buying second-hand clothes, having solar panels installed in their home, driving an EV, or eating plant-based food.
Rather than re-invent the wheel, I urge you, dear reader, to visit the Spiked website, and read the tremendous article by Brendan O’Neill on this topic (“Big Media is turning into Big Brother”vi). The whole article is worth reading in full, but this paragraph particularly resonated with me:
This is alarming stuff. It is a call to make everything from news to drama subservient to a political cause – the political cause of imbuing the public with the green mindset. It is a proposal for the wholesale politicisation of news, drama and entertainment to the end of providing moral instruction to the masses. It feels virtually Stalinist.
From the positive to the negative
Stage one seems to be to ensure that news reporting is dominated by climate alarmism stories. Most of these are nothing to do with real-world events, and the “news” is produced by reporting the results of studies, surveys and opinion polls.
Stage two seems to be ensure that all aspects of TV broadcasting are used to “nudge” viewers towards the required behaviour patterns.
Stage three is to deny that there can be any rational opposition to the agenda. This week has seen a BBC article with the heading “Covid denial to climate denial: How conspiracists are shifting focus”vii. Attention has already been drawn to this at CliScep on Open Mic, including the fact that it was written by the BBC’s “Specialist disinformation reporter”. As though designed to make my point about studies being used to generate news articles, we learn that:
According to researchers at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a think tank that researches global disinformation trends, some anti-lockdown groups have become polluted by misleading posts about climate change being overplayed, or even a so-called “hoax” designed to control people.
“Increasingly, terminology around Covid-19 measures is being used to stoke fear and mobilise against climate action,” says the ISD’s Jennie King.
She says this isn’t really about climate as a policy issue.
When the covid pandemic arrived, it knocked climate change off the news headlines, despite the best efforts to keep it at the top of the pile. I noticed in short order efforts by alarmists to link covid with climate change in the public mind, in what seemed to be a desperate attempt to prevent a real crisis in the here-and-now from taking priority in the public consciousness ahead of worries about climate change. Repeating my strategy of searching the internet with a date and some key words (in this case “2020”, “Guardian” “climate” and “covid”), the results, in order as they appeared, but otherwise at random, are: “Climate change, Covid – our hearts ache. But a new era is possible. We can do it”; “Revealed: Covid recovery plans threaten global climate hopes”; “The Guardian view on the climate and coronavirus: global warnings”; “How the twin disasters of climate change and Covid-19 could transform our cities”; “From the climate crisis to Covid-19: can journalism focus on the stories that matter?”; and “UK climate assembly: tax frequent flyers and ban SUVs as part of Covid recovery”.
It is, then, more than a little ironic that the BBC article is claiming that covid deniers are now becoming climate deniers, and seeking to link covid denial with climate denial (whatever that is). Again, we see an organisation with an agenda (ISD) producing a report which is turned by a mainstream media organisation (in this case the BBC) into a story aimed at ridiculing anyone who questions the official narrative:
As the pandemic progresses, vaccines take effect and many countries – particularly rich ones – inch closer to normality, this pivot from Covid towards climate change is something researchers have observed across a number of online spaces.
One way that ISD has seen this play out is around the term “climate lockdown”. It’s used to refer to the completely unfounded idea that in the future we might have Covid-style lockdowns to counteract climate change.
The term has found popularity with YouTubers who peddle conspiracy theories – but climate scientists say lockdowns would not be a serious climate change mitigation strategy. Covid lockdowns, for instance, only marginally reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
However, the distress caused by Covid and lockdowns – and the falsehoods that have sprung up around them – have laid the groundwork for yet more conspiracies to spread. A mindset has gripped a group of people who blame all bad news on shady plots by powerful people – rather than accepting the reality about the future of the planet.
Read the article and you realise they’re talking about a tiny minority of fringe groups and conspiracy theorists. That doesn’t matter, however. This has been a great opportunity to suggest that anyone who questions the climate change narrative at all must be a barking mad conspiracy theorist who has moved on from being a covid denier. Such people must all be crazy, obviously, and can safely be ignored, runs the subtext.
ISD seem to be a “go-to” organisation for handy studies and quotes at the moment, so far as the BBC is concerned. Others may disagree with my self-assessment, but I think I am more to the left than to the right of politics, yet it seems fairly clear to me following my visit to the ISD websiteviii that it is an organisation which concerns itself far, far more with calling out what it regards as far-right disinformation than any other type of disinformation. For instance, they have publications with titles like “The Business of Hate: Bankrolling Bigotry in Germany and the Online Funding of Hate Groups” with following text saying “ISD and GDI analyse 17 known German far-right groups and actors alleged use of popular online funding services such as Paypal to fund their activities.” Or “Gaming and Extremism: The Extreme Right on Twitch”; or again, “The Far-Right and Alt-Right Find Common Ground with the Taliban”; or again, “Far-right gamers on Steam and Discord, an uncensored community”. A search of their website produced just two articles referring to the far left alone, and two referring to far-left and far-right together. A similar search for articles with “far-right” in the heading produced dozens of results. I think it’s fair to say, therefore, that ISD is not an unbiased and disinterested organisation. It is no surprise, though, that the BBC is keen on producing articles based on ISD reports, and also that the BBC simply describes ISD as “a think tank that researches global disinformation trends”.
Speaking of ISD, and trends around disinformation claims, I recommend a quick read of “Climate Change Scepticism in Line For Censorship”ix at the Daily Sceptic website. It refers to an online event titled “Tackling Online Misinformation and Disinformation” to be held on 18th January 2022 under the auspices of the Institute of Government & Public Policy. A Daily Sceptic reader has received a letter of invitation to the event, which apparently included this paragraph:
“Major U.K. brands including Virgin Media O2, Sky, British Gas, Ben & Jerry’s and SSE have signed an open letter calling on Cop26 decision-makers and technology platforms to take immediate action on stamping out climate change misinformation once and for all. Led by the Conscious Advertising Network, a voluntary coalition of organisations on a mission to prevent advertisers from inadvertently funding harmful content online, the letter says climate change has reached a “crisis point”. Recent research from Stop Funding Heat also found 113 ads on Facebook with messages like “climate change is a hoax” between January and October 2021, with an estimated spend of between £42,000 and £55,000.”
Sound familiar? There is undoubtedly a big push on to quell discussion.
I was going to end with a reference to the latest egregious article at the BBC entitled “COP26: The truth behind the new climate change denial” which seems to take this all to a whole new level. However, Jit has just dealt with this in his excellent article, “The BBC’s Latest “Unreality” Check”x, and so I would suggest simply treating this article as a companion piece to that one.
The mainstream media and many others in positions of power and influence are now going to extraordinary lengths to clamp down on discussion or dissent with regard to the prevailing climate change narrative; to label any dissenters as “far-right”, “climate deniers”, etc.; and even to write “Reality Check” articles which turn reality on its head. Strange though it may seem, I regard this as grounds for hope. To go to such lengths suggests worry – a great deal of worry – on the part of the establishment. The reason for such levels of worry is a failure on the part of the public to show much concern or interest in the Apocalyptic narrative. People aren’t rushing to drive electric cars, to replace their gas boilers with heat pumps, and the moment foreign travel restrictions were lifted in connection with the covid pandemic they jetted off on holiday in their droves. The wall-to-wall media coverage of COP 26 has been a huge turn-off. People will say they care about climate change if confronted directly, but if it involves taking active steps, they don’t want to know. They realise that it’s going to cost them a great deal of money and change their lives for the worse. Those in power know that they know, and feel that they need to do something about it. They are very worried indeed. And so they should be. Still, Jit’s article and this one reveal a very shabby, undemocratic, and worrying set of developments. We should be worried, too.
As dictators down the ages discovered, if you suppress open discussion and disagreement, you drive it underground. The only things that people are turning off are their TVs. One day, perhaps, the BBC will realise that it’s doing more harm than good both to itself and to the cause it so blatantly espouses in such a biased way. Let’s hope it is, anyway.