Sure, Crikey devoted our editorial to this on Wednesday, but this deserves another go over.

Firstly, that the editor-in-chief of The Australian Chris Mitchell has been honoured with an award for “leading the newspaper’s coverage of climate change policy” by those pillars of the fourth estate: the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association.

Yes, that’d be the self proclaimed peak national body representing Australia’s oil and gas exploration and production industry.

Secondly, that he then thought to mention it in the paper:

Most self respecting journalists and editors, priding themselves on their objectivity of course, would beg any interest group to take their trophy back. Not Mitchell.

As Crikey blog Pure Poison wrote earlier in the week, “should a newspaper — or its editor — feel honoured to receive an award on its reporting and coverage from a group that appears to have a clear vested interest in the nature of the coverage?”

The science blog Deltoid had a look at the APPEA’s annual Environment Award, also handed out this week. This year the APPEA Environment Award went to Woodside Energy, “not for doing anything to conserve or improve the environment”, says Deltoidbut for research that the APPEA ruled: “demonstrated that the effects of oil and gas appraisal activity on the surrounding environment, even in sensitive areas, are much lower with quicker recovery rates than previously thought.”

The accompanying press release for Mitchell’s award, the first to be awarded to an editor not a journalist, outlines the criteria on which the “coveted” award is based:

“The award recognises excellence in journalism with respect to the upstream petroleum industry. It is open to all forms of media — print, television, radio and on-line. The selection criteria include excellence of writing style, accuracy of research, ethics, newsworthiness, flair and creativity, and public benefit.”

The special commendations in the press release, one of which was Annabel Hepworth’s ‘Red tape hurts $100bn energy projects’ suggest it’s also about benefit to the APPEA itself.

Given that Hepworth’s story is from The AFR we have to rely on the Business Spectator summary, but you get the gist:

The Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA) has called for government action to reduce red tape. The APPEA said $A100 billion worth of projects in development could take up to five years to approve, with companies requiring approval from 20 regulators on 500 separate issues.

The APPEA press release explains that the late John Pierce after which the award is named “was a leading Australian resources writer who worked for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian Financial Review prominently in the 1960s and 1970s before his retirement in the early 1990s. Scrupulously honest in his reporting, JN Pierce was noted for his accuracy, his attention to detail and one who always made that extra call to check the facts.”

At a pinch, an award for resources or energy coverage from the APPEA might be appropriate, and one that JN Pierce may approve of, after all, that’s their business.

But an award for coverage of climate change policy? Wankleys all round.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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