On December 28, 2001, Media Lens issued a media alert regarding the BBC’s reporting of the launch of a new Red Cross rapid response disaster fund.
David Loyn, the BBC’s developing world correspondent, referred in his report to ‘mounting disasters’ but did not refer to human-induced climate change: the driving force behind these ‘mounting disasters’ (on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on December 28) and on BBC news online at: (http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk/newsid_1731000/1731245.stm).
Mr. Loyn has now responded to Media Lens stating that climate change was not relevant to this ‘simple news report, reporting a change in the way that the Red Cross raises funds’. Moreover, he stated: ‘I was not ignoring causal reasons for disasters because I [am] part of some corporatist conspiracy’.
Waving the ‘conspiracy’ card is almost a standard response to critiques of the mainstream media. Media Lens consistently and explicitly rejects conspiracy as an explanation for biased mainstream media performance.
The point is not that journalists or commentators are dishonest conspirators; rather, unless they happen to conform to institutional requirements, they will find no place in the corporate media. Journalists either consciously understand this, or so successfully internalise the required views that they are unable to think anything else. Dissenting voices do exist in the mainstream media, but they are few, marginalised, and, in the words of John Pilger describing his own position, act as “fig leaves” hiding the general level of servility to power.
David Loyn’s full response to the Media Lens media alert is provided below. Media Lens has, in turn, responded to him and we await to see whether he accepts our offer to discuss the extent to which the mainstream media is able to tell the truth.
Response from David Loyn, BBC developing world correspondent:
January 2, 2002
This was a simple news report, reporting a change in the way that the Red Cross raises funds. Had they said that their reason for doing it was in order to deal with the new challenges faced by climate change then surely it would have made its way into my report. I was not ignoring causal reasons for disasters because I part of some corporatist consipiracy.
Thank you for pointing me towards your website…I had not heard of Media Lens before, and there is some useful stuff on it. The tone that you are the only people with the truth is rather hard to take though. I hear arguments like this put in newsrooms in the BBC every day of the week. Some kind of dialogue is possible surely with sympathetic people in the mainstream media.
By the way…you’re wrong about Mitch…the death toll was caused by the huge changes to the environment inside Honduras itself (because of US backed banana farming) The scale of the hurricane itself was probably not an effect of climate change. They have had huge hurricanes there before — for thousands of years according to archaeological evidence.
BBC Developing World Correspondent
Reply from Media Lens:
January 3, 2002
Dear David Loyn,
Many thanks for taking the time and trouble to respond.
I appreciate that the Red Cross didn’t specifically mention climate change in this particular instance but, as the BBC developing world correspondent, would it not have been relevant and useful for you to have placed it, even briefly, in this context – particularly in view of the phrase ‘mounting disasters’ which must have mystified quite a few listeners?
Media Lens explicitly rejects conspiracy theories in examining mainstream media performance, as our introductory essay on the website makes clear. Also, nowhere does Media Lens claim to be ‘the only people with the truth’. Our charge is that the mainstream media, by virtue of its corporate structure combined with elements of human psychology, performs differently from a truly free, accountable and honest press. As George Orwell once wrote of free societies: “Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without any need for an official ban”.
Re: Hurricane Mitch. I’m a physical oceanographer based at Southampton Oceanography Centre, where we also do climate research. Indeed no specific weather event can be directly attributed to anthropogenic climate change; however, the pattern of events today is compatible with climate predictions in a globally warming world. I don’t think you’d find many IPCC scientists who’d stake a claim on there being definitely *no* link between Mitch and global warming. Your point about the deleterious impact of US farming practices in Central America is entirely consistent with my argument that human-induced climate change and corporate shaping of the global economy are inextricably linked (see my just-published book ‘Private Planet’: http://www.private-planet.com). For example, unsustainable farming and land use practices can exacerbate the impact of extreme weather events (cf. the forest fires in S.E. Asia around 3 years ago).
I agree it’s possible and useful to some extent to have dialogue with sympathetic journalists in the mainstream media (as we have done and continue to do). It would be indeed be a useful insight for members of the public to learn more of the pressures on working journalists (as well as the opportunities available to journalists to report on the world). To that end, perhaps you would be willing to participate in an email exchange exploring the question ‘To what extent can we learn the truth about the world from the mainstream media?’ This exchange would then be posted at the Media Lens website.
Co-Editor, Media Lens