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Plenary 5 - The Media (afternoon session),
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25/10/2009 16:00

The ability of the media to provide thorough and accurate coverage of the climate change threat despite crippling industry cuts formed the basis for the symposium's final plenary session.

Warning that the end of the 'golden days' of newspapers could spell disaster for serious and informative environmental journalism, a panel of reporters argued that a 'haemorrhaging' of experienced staff from conventional media had left a crucial story without the resources it deserved.

Daniel Howden, Africa Correspondent for The Independent newspaper, said that the departure 'of many serious-minded people' had left the general public 'poorly served' by traditional news sources.

Mark Schleifstein, an award-winning environmental specialist at New Orleans's Times Picayune, agreed, suggesting that intensive, long-term newspaper projects would be left behind by a 'dramatically changing' industry looking to cut budgets and reduce staff.

Arguing that the multiple demands of multi-media platforms had left reporters with less time to research stories, Paul Brown, a former Environment Correspondent for The Guardian, said much of the climate change coverage found online was 'thin' and had 'no depth'.

Faced with figures released from the Pew Center on Global Climate Change showing that Americans have grown more sceptical about the science behind global warming, delegates discussed whether the media could be held responsible for failing to convince the public of the gravity of the threat.

Defending his colleagues' efforts, Brown rejected the accusation. “There are only so many times you can write the same story before you get 'that's enough global warming - ed',” he said.

But others said the media had failed in its duty. Howden criticised a 'culture of [editorial] irresponsibility' which lacked seriousness and commitment. Peter Bridgewater, chair of the UK Joint Nature Conservation Committee, said that editors' pressure on reporters to produce 'nice and sexy' pieces had led to widespread misrepresentation of the facts.

Media outlets were also harshly criticised for continuing to give prominence to public figures who question the science behind climate change. In a question which received applause from delegates, Martin Kaplan, senior counsel at the WilmerHale law firm, said he was unsure whether even the New York Times 'knows what it's doing on climate change'.

Referring to a similar debate about the BBC, Brown agreed. “In the name of balance you are completely unbalanced,” he said.

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