Notes on a Fair and Balanced Media

A Gippsland journalist recently stated on the social media that their work they should be “balanced, fair and impartial”. It goes without saying that the media should be ‘fair and balanced’ in their approach to controversial issues. A number of points can be made about this and journalism in general.

From the outset it should be noted the Murdoch media is neither fair nor balanced and continues to pursue an ultra-conservative political agenda and in the case of climate change an anti-science one. Before the invasion of Iraq Murdoch media around the world editorialised in its favour in 172 of its 173 papers. Fairfax’s Melbourne Age at least tried to present a balanced view on this which extended to the letters column and resulted in the publication of some strange correspondence.

The ‘two sides to every story’ if taken to extremes can lead to absurdities, such as giving equal time and space to someone stating the earth is flat, thus creating a false or contrived debate about established science.  This is precisely what has happened with global warming with the media utilising lies, distortions and uninformed opinions (false news?) to make the balance. This approach also allows the media to be manipulated and pressurised by its owners – both the government owned and privately financed media – for political purposes.

What is a fair and balanced view on climate change? Certainly not whether it is happening or that it is human caused – both of which are clearly established in the science. A balanced approach should give the whole range of possible scenarios including the worst case. This outcome hardly gets a mention at the moment anywhere in the media but is the most likely with business as usual.

Locally I can comment only on the East Gippsland News (EGN) reporting where, except for the letters column in the Bairnsdale Advertiser and during election times, any discussion on climate change is absent from its columns. The ‘balance’ in the letters columns means a range of views from the well-informed to the completely loony. In the four EGN papers there has been a vacuum on this issue for more than 10 years.  One exception to this – which made the headlines – was a joke by science guru ‘Dr Karl’ about sea level rise being a tourist attraction as Lakes Entrance goes under. This in turn was treated seriously by the editor and so given prominence.

By comparison with climate change same sex marriage – a minor question – has dominated our media for several months. Following the plebiscite – a waste of $120 million for political purposes – the Melbourne Age on 16 November carried the first 8 full pages on this issue. Popular yes, but hardly balanced. No one will die from this issue but people are already being killed by climate change influenced extreme weather events in Gippsland.