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.

Friday, March 11, 2005

British blogging, 'global warming' and the media.....

Recognition of the importance of the burgeoning blogosphere has been much slower in the UK than in America and, accordingly, its major media scalps have been fewer in number. But mainstream British journalists are at last beginning to wake up to the fact that their stranglehold on opinion and comment is now under significant threat - witness the somewhat tremulous piece in today's The Times by no less a luminary of the op.ed. than Sir Simon Jenkins:
"Earlier threats to the press came from new conduits of news and information. Today’s goes to the heart of my trade. It peddles opinion. I can pretend to occupy a higher plane. I can try pleading factual accuracy, consistency, incorruptibility and a quote or two from Shakespeare. But in truth I too am a blogger, snatching at some item of passing news to argue a case and persuade. And I charge for it. The blogger does it for nothing. I am on my mettle as never before."

One or two British journalists have already responded to this perceived threat by establishing their own thriving blogs, although these tend to masquerade as more sophisticated web sites and diaries. A classic example of such output is MelaniePhillips.com, which publishes a daily 'Diary' of opinion, as well as Melanie's mainstream columns for The Daily Mail and The Jewish Chronicle. Unquestionably, Melanie has benefited from developing this site, which has provided international recognition and enabled her to break free from the parochial constraints of her Daily Mail readership. It has also liberated her from the dictates of editors, who tend to lay down the topics for comment. During a recent lunch with another eminent woman journalist, the question of Melanie's blog was raised and I have a feeling that some of her colleagues may now be considering emulating this pioneering lead.

In the UK, the rise of the blogosphere is thus at last challenging the mainstream media, but in ways that may be subtly different from those in America and in other parts of the world. First, it is abundantly clear that many British bloggers are infinitely better and more penetrating commentators than their journalistic counterparts. Both 'Norman Geras' and 'Harry's Place', for example, are widely recognised as being in a different league from most mainstream commentators (I often read these before the press), while Scott Burgess at 'The Daily Ablution' is excoriating in his brilliant debunking of elite liberal twaddle from such newspapers as The Guardian and The Independent. At times, his blog is cruel in its exposure of prejudice masking as 'science'. And just read what Scott does to Simon Jenkins on blogging!

Secondly, bloggers are often in advance of the formal news, with even this site, for example, having reported the defection of Chris Landsea from the IPCC days before it was picked up by the media (see: 'Scientist resigns from IPCC over alleged politicization', January 17).

But thirdly, and more importantly, the British blogosphere is breaking the PC-stanglehold on media such as the BBC and ITV. The chattering classes are, somewhat paradoxically, under threat from a new chattering class, which they cannot so easily control and manage. No longer can stories be ignored because they do not fit pre-conceived editorial norms. No longer can inconvenient arguments and facts be damned by clever journalistic tricks without any chance of riposte. No longer can producers get away with an idea of 'balance' that includes, say, on a panel of four, one sceptic, for that sceptic, and others, may strike back swiftly through a blog. And it is no longer quite so easy for, say, 'Newsnight' to run an absolutely dreadful and uncritical programme on China and the environment (as it did this week) without somebody pointing out on the web how poor the report really was. To put it at its simplest: bloggers are no longer confined to trying to get a 'Letter to the Editor' published, with a 1-in-50 chance and a near certainty that, if it is ever published, it will be edited out of all recognition.

This is why the blogosphere is vital for any proper discussion of controversial topics such as 'global warming' and climate change. The British media have been so mesmerized by the drama of a doomed world ('Horizon' et al.) that they have abandoned their normal journalistic critical senses. Moreover, many producers tend to be natural sympathisers with The Guardian-style agenda behind the politics of 'global warming', i.e. anti-America, anti-Bush, anti-big corporations, anti-car, anti-capitalism, anti-industry, anti-development, anti-Iraq war, anti-Israel, etc., ad nauseam.

But we bloggers, "we few, we happy few, we band of brothers" (put in to please Sir Simon), are having an effect, so much so that I'm amazed to hear demands for censorship from some commentators, and even from some scientists who should know better. And what precisely did Sir Simon mean by this little aside? "They have rebuilt the Tower of Babel and put microphones on top of it. Amid the noise, a still small voice of reason will still be heard. But it may require the help of Microsoft, not dead trees." Hm!

Blogging is at last challenging the control of newspaper magnates, of editors, of producers, and of those who only wish to pay lip-service to the true shuttlecock of free and open debate, because they, consciously or subconsciously, believe that they are an elite of their day. Oh! How often have I encountered the sin of Saruman amongst our media, that all-too-smug 'we-who-know-best' syndrome.

And how Galileo Galilei would surely have loved to have been able to blog from his house arrest at the villa "Il Goiello" in Arcetri, just outside Florence.

Blogging is the true democracy of comment against all the imprimatur of the world, and the excluded voices can no longer be cabin'd, cribb'd and confin'd by their 'betters'. All those deemed to be suffering from 'false consciousness' can now openly challenge the Sarumans who wish to think for them.

Philip, a poor blogger, but mine own. Lunch.

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

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