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Six ways to spin climate coverage

How are big polluters trying to influence climate change reporting in the run up to the vital Paris summit? Here are some things we've noticed..

1) Sponsored content

Perhaps the least subtle (and arguably least deceitful) piece of corporate influence over climate coverage this week came in the New Statesman. The only substantive mention of the biggest climate summit in 6 years in Britain's most prominent left wing magazine, the last full week before the conference begins, was a double page feature about energy policy and COP21 sponsored by EDF. This is the same EDF who were forced to back down from suing “no dash for gas” protestors three years ago after they had occupied one of their gas power stations.

2) Adverts and coincidental coverage?

 

On 18th November, the Times had a large advert for EasyJet. A couple of pages later, there was a slightly strange article telling us all about how EasyJet uses clever software to make sure that they have the right meals on the right flights. And then a little further on, another story about the airline. This may well have been coincidence, but it did look pretty strange.

3) More adverts and coincidental coverage...

  The Spectator, 17 November

Perhaps the biggest and most successful climate campaign at the moment is the divestment movement, encouraging institutions to reduce investments in the fossil fuel industry. In that context, last week's Spectator money section ran an article making the case for investing in crude oil. Next to it, there was a full-page advert for a company offering spread bets on the price of oil. The Spectator is owned by the Barclay Brothers, who also own the Telegraph, from which Peter Oborne famously resigned amidst allegations of advertiser interference.

4) Artwashing/pinkwashing

BP advert in the Guardian

BP is running a regular series of adverts in the Guardian along with the Tate Modern – despite a large and long-running campaign against arts institutions allowing their brands to be used as part of the fossil fuel industry's spin machine. The example shown above is also open to allegations of what LGBT activists call "pinkwashing", where companies cover themselves in the progressive sheen of LGBT rights to insulate against other allegations of human rights abuses.

5) Adverts about energy policy

Full page advert in the Times, Tuesday 23 Nov 2015

You saw BP's spin in its full glory in the Times and FT on Monday. This full-page advert in both papers used careful wording like calling gas the cleanest "burning” fossil fuel to get round awkward research showing that the leakage of gas from extraction sites can negate any advantages gained from the fact that it is cleaner burning. With less than a week till the summit, this was the sum total of coverage of or relating to it in Monday's Times, and the only other reference in the FT was a mention in the Companies and Markets section of two South Korean companies missing the EU's carbon targets.

This is a classic example of BP and Shell's spin around the conference, also found in this video.

6) Think-tankery

Perhaps the most effective piece of messaging on energy and climate change came in the Daily Mail, where we got a classic peek into the way that coverage comes together. The paper ran a story on a report from the Centre for Policy Studies saying that environmental policies would cause power cuts: “Green taxes 'could cause blackouts next year'". This is scary stuff.

Or, at least, it is until you read another report: earlier this year, the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit did some research showing that such stories have appeared frequently in the media in the last decade. As they say: “Since 2005, mainstream national papers have carried nearly 500 distinct articles either warning that the lights will go out, or discussing the idea that they might if something specific didn’t happen”. In this period, there has only been one black out caused by supply, and this was when two conventional power stations (Longannet in Fife and Sizewell B in Suffolk) suddenly broke down within five minutes of each other.

The idea that renewables will lead to black-outs and therefore that we need to keep fossil fuels is one that the media keeps returning to, despite repeated predictions not turning out to be true. It is also an idea that is extremely helpful to the fossil fuel industry.

I rang the Centre for Policy Studies to ask who had funded their report repeating these claims. They said they would get back. They didn't, which comes as no surprise. They have consistently refused to reveal their funders. I asked the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit who funds them. They sent me this list of their backers.

The next day the National Trust published another report saying that climate change was causing damage to a number of their properties. The Mail ran an article mocking them for this, and quoting the Global Warming Policy Foundation – a climate denying think tank set up by Nigel Lawson and which also doesn't reveal where its funding comes from.

Daily Mail, 20 Nov 2015

We're digging through the media to see how climate change is reported over the Paris climate talks and beyond. Sign up to hear what we find out.
About the author

Adam Ramsay is the Co-Editor of openDemocracyUK and also works with Bright Green. Before, he was a full time campaigner with People & Planet. You can follow him at @adamramsay.


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