Climate of Denial at Reuters Mirrors Mainstream Media Climate Dithering
July 16, 2013
I’ve met a lot of environmental journalists in the last 2 years who have either been laid off, or have serious insecurities about continuing in their current positions. There’s some kind of disease to the journalistic system when the story of the millenium can’t get covered.
Winds of change are blowing through Reuters’ environmental coverage. One of its three regional environment correspondents “is no longer with the company” and the other two have been ordered to switch focus, people inside the agency say.
A perceptible shift in Reuters’ approach to the global climate change story has attracted international attention. Scientists and climatologists as well as non-governmental and international environment bodies have detected a move from the agency’s straight coverage towards scepticism on the view held by a vast majority of scientists that climate change is the result of human pollution of the atmosphere and environment. They see generally fewer stories on the issue. Some say they have been taken aback by Reuters’ new direction and are concerned that this could contribute to a change in government and public perceptions of climate change.
The specialist correspondent for Asia was Singapore-based David Fogarty, who was transferred to more general news reporting before he left earlier this year after two decades with the company including four years on the Asia climate change beat
David Fogarty in The Baron:
The parlous state of Reuters’ climate and environment coverage is baffling and a massive disservice to paying clients [■ New regime brings change of climate at Reuters]. Climate change has become one of the stories of the century and a top economic, political and humanitarian focus for the globe.
Financial clients from banks, insurance firms, miners, agricultural giants to central banks and power generators want news on climate change impacts and policy. They want the best scientific analysis on future impacts on changes in weather patterns, sea level rise and impacts on crops – i.e., food security.
Climate change touches every facet of human life and every economy. It’s a massive business story. Yet some people seem to view it only as a debate between climate scientists and paid-for climate sceptics and oil-industry lobbyists trying to promote business as usual.
From very early in 2012, I was repeatedly told that climate and environment stories were no longer a top priority for Reuters and I was asked to look at other areas. Being stubborn, and passionate about my climate change beat, I largely ignored the directive.
In April last year, Paul Ingrassia (then deputy editor-in-chief) and I met and had a chat at a company function. He told me he was a climate change sceptic. Not a rabid sceptic, just someone who wanted to see more evidence mankind was changing the global climate.
Progressively, getting any climate change-themed story published got harder. It was a lottery. Some desk editors happily subbed and pushed the button. Others agonised and asked a million questions. Debate on some story ideas generated endless bureaucracy by editors frightened to take a decision, reflecting a different type of climate within Reuters – the climate of fear.
By mid-October, I was informed that climate change just wasn’t a big story for the present, but that it would be if there was a significant shift in global policy, such as the US introducing an emissions cap-and-trade system.
Very soon after that conversation I was told my climate change role was abolished. I was asked to take over the regional shipping role and that I had less than a week to decide.
I decided it was time to leave.
By far one of the most bizarre climate e-mail exchanges occurred on 30 October regarding Hurricane Sandy. I offered to kick-off a story from Asia leading on the storm’s impact on public opinion on climate change, given it occurred a week before presidential elections and was the type of storm climate scientists say we should expect as the planet warms. There was a huge amount of commentary to draw on from other media and commentators.
A senior Top News editor in Asia shot down the idea saying “climate change is one of those topics that can get people’s backs up”. Michael Stott, the Europe, Middle East and Africa regional editor in London, in turn, shot down that editor’s view and urged the story to be written, saying: “Many other media will follow this trail – it’s an obvious angle and one we should explore”.
Reuters in the US did the story, about 48 hours later than everyone else, despite reporters there itching to get a story out sooner.