Matthia Dempsey, editor-in-chief of Bookseller+Publisher, writes: The details of the government’s proposed carbon tax and the News of the World scandal unfolded simultaneously on two side of the globe in recent weeks.

How does one affect the other? A vicious tit-for-tat played out examining how many News Limited journalists are familiar with their newspapers’ code of ethics played out, but it’s important to recall the explicitly stated stance of News Limited’s The Australian on its reporting of the carbon tax’s raison d’etre — climate change.

Late last year, The Australian’s environment editor Graham Lloyd defended the paper’s climate change reporting as follows:

“The reality is that, despite the science, a good deal of uncertainty exists in the minds of many people, a situation that has not been helped by the exaggerated claims of some about what to expect.”

Those italics are mine. Lloyd, on behalf of the Australian, draws a parallel between coverage of climate change and of the concerns of Pauline Hanson during the height of her One Nation popularity.

“Much has been written on how the rise of Hansonism was fuelled in large part by the refusal of the political class to allow public discussion of popular, if ill-informed, views on issues such as indigenous welfare and immigration”, he wrote.

We might question the theory, but even if we accept it, do we also accept that Hansonism can be compared to climate change? Can we compare social policy debate, which will always be subjective, with a scientific debate that now has an accepted factual and objective conclusion?

In a previous era, Lloyd may well have written something along the lines of ‘Despite the science that shows the world is round, there’s a lot of uncertainty in the minds of our readers, so we’re going to continue running opinions of those who think it’s flat.’

“Even if public doubts are unfounded, refusing to hear and challenge them can ultimately compound the misconceptions,” he wrote last year.

Is that so? Or does a national newspaper that continues to publish opinion that exists ‘despite the science’ in fact foster the uncertainty that exists only “in the minds” of its readers?

Crikey reports that in November 2009 53% of people believed climate change was happening and caused by human activity, a percentage that had dropped to 45% by the end of 2010.

I’d suggest The Australian has played a role in the change in those percentages and needs to adjust its policy. Confirming News Limited’s journalists’ familiarity with the corporation’s code of ethics is all well and good, it’s the ethics themselves, when it comes to climate change reporting, that I’m truly worried about.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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