19 April 2007

Climate reporting “too balanced” say scientists

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Airing the views of climate change sceptics in the media may only be serving to keep the global warming controversy boiling.
Climate reporting 'too balanced' say scientists

A balanced view does not reflect the scientific consensus on climate change. Credit: iStockphoto

MELBOURNE: Airing the views of climate change sceptics in the media may only be serving to keep the global warming controversy boiling, argue scientists.

Leading climate change experts have warned the World Conference of Science Journalists in Melbourne, Australia, that a balanced view does not always reflect the consensus of the research community.

Kevin Hennessy, a lead scientist with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said yesterday that media attention on “the view of a handful of climate change sceptics” amplifies their opinions and “implies that there is little agreement about the basic facts of global warming”.

Hennessy is also with the marine and atmospheric division of Australian government research body, CSIRO.

Speaking in a session about climate change reporting, he said editors and journalists have a duty to ensure that facts are presented in context. Balanced reporting, he said, “perpetuates the public’s perception that scientists are in disarray, which is misleading in the case of climate change”.

Geoff Love, secretary of the IPCC and former deputy director of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, said that IPCC assessment reports from 1990 through to this year are strong evidence of “the coming together of the scientific community.”

Emphasis on the sceptic view does not help public understanding of climate change, said Love.

Media coverage has not always reflected the consensus of the majority of the scientific community, said Ian Lowe, president of the Australian Conservation Foundation a non-profit environment group. “That only makes the public and political discussion more difficult,” he said.

The problem is compounded by a lack of reporting on climate change, according to Chris Mooney, a U.S.-based science journalist attending the conference. Although the 2006 hurricane season attracted a lot of media attention, Mooney presented statistics from the United States showing that climate change has never been a priority in the media.

The situation is similar in Africa, said Ochieng’ Ogodoa a Kenyan correspondent for London, U.K.-based news web site SciDev.Net. Articles about deaths caused by floods or other natural disasters, and political scandals related to climate change tend to get precedence, he said.

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