“Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. 14% of people know that” – Homer Simpson
Homer Simpson may not be aware of media bias or the notion of false balance but this sentence here demonstrates that he would be in good company with 2GB broadcaster Alan Jones.
On the 15th of March 2011, Jones stated that “human beings produce .001% of the carbon dioxide in the air,” a figure widely refuted by climate change scientists who believe the contribution to be closer to 30%. When a debate is misrepresented like this, particularly by one of Australia’s highest rating radio hosts, then there is definite cause for concern.
False balance is the description used when the media portrays a balance between viewpoints that is not representative of the actual issue.
Climate Change is perhaps the greatest example of a global crisis flooded with false balance. The discussion swirling around the issue has been a strong focus of media and political debate, however from a scientific perspective there should be little debate at all. Climate change is very real and we are contributing to it.
Here is Media Watch’s contribution to the debate.
This has not stopped the media, particularly commercial radio in Australia, from inaccurately reporting on the issue, giving equal and in some case more time to climate change skeptics than climate change scientists who accept the reality of man-made global warming.
Thankfully Alan Jones part in the debate is under investigation by the Australian media watchdog, ACMA. Under the code of practice it states that licencees must ensure that reasonable efforts are made to “promote accuracy and fairness in news and current affairs programs,” an effort Mr. Jones clearly has not made.
Cottle (2009) states, “Different crises and their complex articulations with and interpretations by the fast-changing world of journalism demand detailed, comparative and sustained empirical study.” If we are to take global crises such as climate change seriously, as Cottle proposes, then our media watchdogs must act tougher to ensure the Alan Jones’ of this world cannot use their power to misinform the masses.
Cottle, S 2011, ‘Taking global crises in the news seriously: Notes from the dark side of globalization’, Global Media and Communication, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 77-95