“The proof of the pudding,” said Maurice Newman to ABC staff yesterday, “is in the eating.” If nothing else, Newman’s instinctive grasp of cliché shows he’s in the right business.

Newman has an outstanding business background and he’s been a pretty good ABC board member and chairman. His resignation over board leaks in 2004 commendably shone a light on the iniquity of a staff representative holding a position on the ABC board, prompting the Howard government to finally getting around to removing it.

But his comments yesterday about media coverage of climate change were grubby and contemptible.

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Let’s boil his claims down to their essence: he compared climate science with the spivs and shonks of the 1980s, the corporates house of cards such as Enron in the 1990s, and the financial chicanery that prompted the GFC. Journalists failed to spot those until too late, he told ABC staff, and a similar thing is happening on climate change. He thus implicitly compares climate scientists with frauds and criminals.

It’s no wonder climate scientists get hate mail and death threats when public figures of standing like Newman equate them with Christopher Skase and Bernie Madoff.

But if the proof of the pudding is indeed in the eating, Mr Newman, let’s see what fare your corporation has served up. Because this is the other fiction Newman is perpetuating — the idea that somehow climate sceptics and denialists don’t get a run in the media. Chris Monckton — conspiracy theorist and serial fantasist — got extensive and frequently uncritical coverage from the ABC during his recent visit — radio interviews  locally and nationally, online coverage, a 7.30 Report piece, ABC-hosted debates. Indeed, the ABC gave far more coverage to Monckton than any other single outlet. And all for a man who is taking seriously only by the extreme right in his homeland.

Compare and contrast: James Hansen is currently in Australia. Hansen is probably the best-known climate scientist on the planet, but you wouldn’t know he was here from the ABC, which, a Phillip Adams interview last week excepted, has barely mentioned his presence. The bald figures tell the story: as of today, Monckton has been discussed on the ABC 161 times this year, while Hansen has only been mentioned nine times.

Indeed, The Australian has given Hansen more coverage than the ABC, because of his support for nuclear power.

In fact, you’re as likely to see Hansen being savaged by climate denialists on the ABC’s comments boards as you are to hear from or about him.

I asked the ABC about the disparity in coverage.  The response from the ABC’s News Kate Torney was, in full:

ABC News stands by the accuracy, the breadth, the depth, the balance and the fairness of its coverage of climate change. For many years, ABC News has led the way in covering all aspects of this important issue in its news bulletins and in its longer-form current affairs programs, and our coverage has been recognised, among other things, through Walkley awards.

The various elements of that coverage, whether the announcement of government policy, the exploration of the science itself or the various public pronouncements or campaigns by advocates for change or critics of the process, have been accorded the coverage they deserve based on newsworthiness. ABC News has never been influenced or advised to change its coverage of this issue in any way by ABC management or the Board. Our coverage has always been determined by following the ABC’s fundamental editorial policies and will continue in the same way.

Newman is a stereotypical climate denialist — wealthy, white, male, conservative. Like nearly all other climate denialists, from the editors of The Australian and conservative bloggers right down to the angry old men penning poisonous emails from their Sunshine Coast dens, he will never see the true consequences of climate change. And like other denialists, he will pay little if any of the cost of actually doing something about it. These people have no stake in either climate change or action to prevent it.

The climate change “debate” is a parlour game for them, something to bait environmentalists and “the Left” about. At least the rentseekers who corrupted the CPRS with their alarmism and demands for handouts were motivated by self-interest. For most denialists, they have no motivation other than to continue the culture wars.

The moral equation here is straight forward. To the extent that climate denialists — whether powerful media figures, or crank retirees with a chip on their shoulder and too much time on their hands — delay action on climate change, they bear responsibility for some of the future costs of it, including the cost in human life. It shouldn’t be a parlour game for smug conservatives such as Newman.

Update: Radio National Breakfast also ran an interview with Hansen last week.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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