Should newspapers ban climate deniers like Reddit’s science forum? | Environment |


Here’s an interesting one, from the Graun: Should newspapers ban climate deniers like Reddit’s science forum? In short, the argument goes that, since deniers can’t really back up their arguments with scientific data, and frequently take their views from extremely biased sources (e.g. funded by oil companies), they’ve been banned from Reddit’s science forum. And it turns out that most of the crappy postings were coming from a tiny minority.

Like our commenters, professional climate change deniers have an outsized influence in the media and the public. And like our commenters, their rejection of climate science is not based on an accurate understanding of the science but on political preferences and personality. As moderators responsible for what millions of people see, we felt that to allow a handful of commenters to so purposefully mislead our audience was simply immoral.

What struck me about this was that the BBC should take heed, too. The Beeb has this infuriating habit of “balancing” its news coverage with just such ignorant, unscientific, unsupported views, on the basis that it can’t be biased. But the question (as always) is whether the BBC has a duty to be unbiased towards two sides of a ridiculous debate (giving equal weight to the idiots/liars) or whether it has a duty to be unbiased towards the truth. Or, put another way, unbiased towards the weight of scientific evidence.

This idea has come up recently in another context, in George Monbiot’s campaign to force the BBC to acknowledge when its contributors are being paid by a lobbying organisation, pressure group, or industry body to have an opinion. This was prompted by a recent “debate” around the question of plain paper packaging for cigarettes. The BBC interviewed a spokesperson from a “think tank” which of course gets at least some of its funding from tobacco companies, a fact that the BBC did not acknowledge when introducing the piece.

For the BBC, they were simply looking to provide the illusion of a debate, when in fact the only people who want tobacco companies not to be regulated are, you know, tobacco companies. The question of how these people sleep at night is never discussed.

via Should newspapers ban climate deniers like Reddit’s science forum? | Environment |

Leveson conflict over statute hides real debate about how regulator would work | Media | The Guardian


What is really at issue is the contradiction at the heart of the oxymoron that dogged the Leveson inquiry: “independent self-regulation”. The intense political discussions have been less about statute than about the difficulty of constructing a regulatory system that can be genuinely independent of editors without impinging on their freedom to go about their public mission to hold power to account.

I understand that the prime minister, and even editors, might well have been relaxed about accepting the famous “dab of statute”. Of much greater concern, however, are the exact arrangements involved in running a new system.

Essentially, the fear of many editors is that they would lose control of the regulator to people outside the industry. They therefore wish to have a veto on who sits in judgment on their activities and even over the writing of a new ethical code.

via Leveson conflict over statute hides real debate about how regulator would work | Media | The Guardian.

Don’t. Talk. To. A. Newspaper


If this seems like the vaguest of ironies, appearing as it does in a newspaper column, then I can only apologise. That is the least of what I have to apologise for in this context because, in my time, I have used those ghastly, mendacious, yet deliciously tempting words to someone whom I – and perhaps you – fervently wished would Talk To A Newspaper. I have said: “It would be great to hear your side of the story.”

What is meant by these words, and what anyone who says them means, is that it would be great for other people to hear your side of the story. But it will not be great for you. Oh no. The business of other people hearing your side of the story will not bring you any happiness, even though it truly seems like it might.

via Pryce should have done what Huhne asked: Don’t. Talk. To. A. Newspaper | Marina Hyde | Comment is free | The Guardian.

Media helped inflate the birther story –

Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...

Image via Wikipedia

You may have been aware of the controversy raging over in the USA about President Obama and where he was born (Hawaii, since you ask). Of course, this so-called “birther” controversy wasn’t really about where Obama was born, it was about race. It’s just the latest in the insidious racism that has dogged Obama since he announced his candidacy. Not all racists are thick, some of them are clever enough to come up with bogus reasons to sow doubts about the president in the minds of other racists.

The big problem with this story, however, was the reporting of it. It struck me as being very similar in nature to the British media’s coverage of the MMR vaccine “controversy”, another non-story given legitimacy by the media by dint of endless repetition and by giving airtime to extremism and ignorance.

The media likes to pretend that they are merely holding up a mirror to society, making themselves as invisible as possible in order to transmit messages. They are, as Michel Serres likes to put it, acting as angels: invisible messengers.

Except that, in cases like this, they’re not. We don’t see news every day about people who think aliens are living among us (unless you count scientologists); we don’t see stories every day about people who think the world is flat, or deny the holocaust, or who believe in the superiority of those with lighter skins. That’s because people who hold these opinions are either tragically deluded, mentally unstable, or just plain nasty.

So why did the US media in particular go on and on and on about the racist “birther” movement? Why did it go on about the story until Obama was forced to release his birth certificate in a press conference, as if doing that was going to make a blind bit of difference to the racist opinions of his racist opponents?

The really interesting thing here is that there are very many reasons to expose Obama’s political weaknesses. Policies he’s made that aren’t working; wars that are dragging on; insane security policies; the continued existence of a prisoner of war camp on a little bit of Cuba. If Obama’s opponents wanted to go after him, there’s plenty of ammunition. So why go on about this non-story?

When nonstories fill the airwaves and dominate headlines, people stop paying attention and miss the real news. But more importantly when so much energy and so many resources are devoted to chasing a phantom issue, the real issues get ignored.

From skyrocketing unemployment in the black community and no end in sight for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the continued existence of Guantanamo and the unacceptably stalled immigration reform debate, President Obama has a long list of outstanding issues that the media should be focusing on. Yet if you turn on your television or visit any major news website, the political discussion in this country has been hijacked by the birther movement‘s Quixotian quest to find our nonexistent foreign-born president.

via Media helped inflate the birther story –

I think part of the answer at least relates to budget cuts. It’s surely easier to report something that somebody released to the press than it is to investigate a real news story. For the American media, the “birther” story was low hanging fruit — cheap airtime (or column inches) to fill with nonsensical opinions and speculation. Whereas researching and fact-checking real news stories is expensive.

That’s not the only reason, of course. For some of Obama’s opponents, the “birthers” were politically useful idiots, who could be used to undermine the authority of the President and allow racists to kid themselves that they weren’t being racist.

Finally, by dumbing down political discourse like this, by reducing politics and the economy to a game of yah-boo sucks, the media don’t have to ask questions about the political and economic system that has failed us so badly in the last few years. You can see the same thing happening in the UK with regard to the debate about the voting system and the forthcoming referendum. Instead of an in-depth discussion and real information, we get two opposing sides calling each other names and flatly contradicting each other. So that’s okay then.

Murdoch on Steve Jobs

Neil Cavuto Interviews Rupert Murdoch

Quoted in an interview with Neil Cavuto (transcript on PaidContent) on the subject of his new iPad newspaper The Daily:

Murdoch: I think this is the end of the laptop.

Cavuto: You do?

Murdoch: Here we have the man who invented the personal computer, then the laptop. He’s now destroying them. That is an amazing life.

Via Daring Fireball.

Joanna Yeates murder case puts media coverage in the spotlight | Media | The Observer


Meet “Professor Strange”, aka “The Strange Mr Jefferies”, landlord of the murdered Joanna Yeates and a “suspect peeping Tom” – at least, and in order of quotation, according to the Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Mirror. See pictures of “the blue-rinse bachelor” and read (or watch or listen, because TV and radio are deep into this game, too) what any available neighbours will say about him. Then, make up your own mind…

No: don’t! Indeed, wipe your mind blank and hurry on by, because Dominic Grieve, the attorney general, grows visibly alarmed. “We need to avoid a situation where trials cannot take place or are prejudiced as a result of irrelevant or improper material being published, whether in print form or on the internet, in such a way that a trial becomes impossible,” he warns. In short, the Contempt of Court Act is circling over the media, waiting to smite those who go too far.

via Joanna Yeates murder case puts media coverage in the spotlight | Media | The Observer.

“Catchy, if illiterate”


Almost 25 years after the launch of the Independent, the newspaper is tomorrow publishing a spin-off title, entitled i and designed to attract younger readers.

The 56-page tabloid will be distributed nationally and promoted with the catchy, if illiterate, marketing slogan: “‘i’ is, are you?”, a nod to one of its parent paper’s advertising campaigns.

via Independent introduces its succinct spin-off – the tabloid ‘i’ | Media | The Guardian.

It has been a long time since a new national newspaper launched in the UK – I’d imagine (if this fails) it will be a long time till we see another. Get your souvenir copy of issue #1 today! (That’ll be i, not Today – newspaper joke).

Tabloid rule | The Economist

The Economist

Image via Wikipedia

Essential reading from The Economist, in this thoughtful and balanced article by Bagehot. You read all the way to the end to see the positive side of “Tabloid Rule”.

They thus tempt governments into policymaking by headline, a method that prizes speed, simplicity and emotional satisfaction over sober analysis of costs and benefits. Tabloid-wooing helps explain the authoritarian streak of the last Labour government (and much besides). A desire for positive headlines helps to account for several of the current coalition government’s dubious policies, from a pledge to cap net inward migration, to the decision to shield the National Health Service from public-spending cuts. Years of hostile headlines about the European Union have made sensible public debate of Britain’s EU interests almost impossible: instead successive governments talk tough at home while pursuing pragmatism in Brussels.

via Bagehot: Tabloid rule | The Economist.

The Times and Sunday Times – £2 a week?


So the Times has taken the plunge, and is proposing to charge £2 per week for access to its online content from June. Would you pay? I obviously wouldn’t, because I can read the paper edition for free at work.

The bigger question is, how will the rest of the newspapers respond? The Guardian frequently argues against charging for online content, though they have created an iPhone app. The Telegraph, as the biggest-selling quality paper will be more influential. £2 per week is relatively cheap (the print editions will cost you over £8). On the other hand, they haven’t got to pay the costs of printing and distributing online news, so it should be cheaper. On the other hand, there’s a difference between £2 per week and £104 per year – that’s the difference between a big wodge of cash and a micropayment system. If you pre-register now, you can get free access for a while, which I suppose will help people make their minds up.

But they have to do something, the newspapers. They’re all haemorrhaging cash (The Times and Sunday Times lost £87.7 million last year, though the parent company is still making money from their tabloids), so they need to fix their broken business model.

In a presentation to the company’s journalists, James Harding, the Editor of The Times, said yesterday that he appreciated that people saw this as a risk but “nowhere near as big a risk as continuing to do what we’re doing”.

He added: “Paid content is the only way that we are going to see a sustainable economic model for quality journalism.”

Mr Harding added: “Saying that our journalism is worthless and dumping it free online is not a viable economic model.” Even were The Times to double its online readership over the next five years the revenue created through non-subscription means would be too low to sustain a quality newspaper, Mr Harding said

via The Times and Sunday Times websites to charge from June.