A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

The British Press Gang

I am often asked what is my own view of the British press. Well, here goes, and here are my rating stars with respect to their environmental science coverage:

* Dire and totally biased; ** All over the shop; ***Tries for some sort of balance;****Pretty acceptable; *****Excellent critical science reporting.

The Financial Times: the only British newspaper in which we can have any genuine pride. The only one with a real sense of truth values. A pity, though perhaps inevitable, that it is a little narrow. ****

The Times: still the best letters pages by a long address, and Mark Henderson is one of the more balanced Science Correspondents, so one doesn't choke too often over one's cornflakes. Totally untrustworthy, of course, on Europe and on its media competitors. Terrible new supplements which have no idea what they are about or where they are going. Sadly, not what it was, despite hosting yours truly on occasion (an extra star!).***(*)

The Daily Telegraph: largely irrelevant today unless you live on a grand estate, are over 70, or are a bright young 'headbander' (to use the late-lamented Lady Diana's apt description) called Arabella, Tamasin, or Julia (the 'Hurleygraph'). On the environment, it has mixed and conflicting ideas, all, however, tending to be somewhat elitist.**

The Guardian: at times hardly distinguishable from a rabid left-wing or deep green pressure group, or a less rational NGO. A once great newspaper of report that has degenerated into a tirade for the trendy and authoritarian left, which has abandonned all sense of the Enlightenment. Some of its correspondents are morally bankrupt in their quite balmy views of the world. Luckily, however, there are a precious few glorious exceptions, such as David Aaronovitch, Jonathan Freedland, Simon Hoggart, and even Polly T. when she is writing about what she knows (awful on the environment). Its main environmental science reporting is bordering on the scandalous for a serious newspaper (with a slight improvement in the new 'Life' supplement which I am monitoring).* (Section ratings: 'Life'***; 'Environment' section in 'Society Guardian' - pure unadulterated propaganda - no stars).

The Independent: on my commuting line, this attenuated apology for a newspaper lasts for only five stops, if I am lucky (even on Connex). Hardly worth the money, new tabloid or old broadsheet, and its environmental reporting is about as bad as The Guardian's. Thin and tendentious.**

The Sunday Times: an acid rag which, like all Sunday newspapers, is now thrashing about to compete with the large Saturday dailies. Occasionally okay on the science, however.**

The Observer: has lost its way since joining The Guardian, of which it is but a pale Sunday shadow. The odd decent environmental science report can still creep into its pages, although, like its stable mate, it is largely uncritical and pushes the ecohype. Not quite as bad overall, however.**

The Daily Mail: it is not possible to comment on this on a family-friendly site. A national disgrace, except for Melanie Phillips' lively column.**

The Sun: much more fun than the former, and it has journalists that are cleverer than most of those on the broadsheets. Still pretty grim if you are not lagered up. "Wot's the environment?" "Global warming? Great - get yer bras off girls."**

The Rest of the Tabloid National Dailies: in the immortal words of Ludwig Wittgenstein, "What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence." Nevertheless, good for fish-and-chips and bonfires, Ludwig.* or **

And then four weekly magazines:

The Spectator: trying hard to show us that the political right, in some form or other, has a future in the UK. Occasionally hosts outstanding science writers like Matt Ridley (the best). At least the bouncing Boris allows in some very trenchant critical pieces on the environment.**(*)

The New Statesman: absolutely lost its marbles, and I can find very few people who even read it - The Guardian with knobs on. One newsagent I spoke to recently complained that he hadn't sold a single copy in a year!*

The New Scientist: good when it isn't being 'right on' and over dramatic. Did have a period when it might have been better called the 'New Sensationalist'. Improving, and more critical. Can be very good, but has off issues.***

The Economist: up with The Financial Times there. Good, serious stuff, and pretty balanced on most issues. If you really want to get to grips with things, quite a fair starting point, although it can occasionally be uncritical on the environment.***(*)

Overall, not a pretty sight, I fear, especially on the environmental science. No wonder I turn to BBC Radio 3 during my morning shower to ease my weary soul with Bach, Mozart, and Schubert. I'm off for a Beethoven late quartet. (My wife is reduced to Radio 2 and Jeremy Vine!). Philip.

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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