Journalism and Climate Change

In the 1930s a young Wilfred Burchett was clearing scrub on the family farm at Poowong. He went on to become one of Australia’s most controversial and well known journalists and commentators. He rose to fame with the journalist scoop of the twentieth century in Japan at the end of World War II. Whilst every other war journalist in Japan went with the flow and attended the signing of the peace treaty on USS Missouri, Burchett went against the flow deciding that the real news story was elsewhere.

Following his hunch he made a difficult and dangerous journey to Hiroshima and was the first journalist to witness the destruction of a city caused by a single bomb. Newspaper headlines flashed around the world; everyone who could read now knew about the Atomic bomb and the insidious radiation sickness that followed in its wake.

Like the nuclear age that burst on an unsuspecting world, man-made climate change is in a similar, but different, position in the world of news. It can be seen like that well-worn cliché as ‘the elephant in the room’. Paradoxically climate change is well known but little understood. Vested interests have successfully muddied the waters and distorted the science. People in Gippsland generally, and some journalists, have accepted the distortion that our current climate change is natural and that therefore nothing can be done about it. The priority for the local media becomes the road accident at Briagolong or a drug bust in Mirboo North.

Many journalists and commentators still confuse weather and climate. From Alan Jones down some crow their disbelief every time there is a massive snow storm in the eastern USA (forgetting of course the record hot temperatures in the Arctic) or when there is a record frost in Bairnsdale. Normal weather patterns dictate that there will be both hot and cold records but not in a ratio of six hot ones to every cold. It is also becoming clearer over time that global warming is influencing all weather in many ways from warmer winters to longer fire seasons.

Amongst current mainstream media journalists working on climate Peter Hannam of the Sydney Morning Herald is a standout. Others such as Tristan Edis of News Corp lost his position some time ago as his work was continuously running counter to the political thrust of his organisation. The campaign of opposition, distortion and misinformation emanating from News Corp, the major print media organisation in Australia, is bordering on criminal. The Guardian by comparison is light years ahead.

This then is a conundrum especially for local journalists. How do they write (or present) about climate change? Barring a nuclear holocaust or a major plague (from bacteria released from a melting permafrost?) global warming will be the news event(s) of the twenty first century. Can Gippsland produce another journo of the calibre of Wilfred Burchett to report on this?