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Why Greens are invisible

David Cromwell & David Edwards
New Statesman, 28 February 2005


As evidence of a growing climate catastrophe has mounted over the past two decades - indeed, the American Association for the Advancement of Science learned this month of a "stunning" correlation between a rise in ocean temperature and man-made atmospheric pollution - so the visibility of the green movement has collapsed.

In the late 1980s, public outrage at environmental degradation propelled Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Green Party on to the media stage. The BBC presenter John Humphrys declared that he would flush his toilet less often, to save water, while Marks & Spencer hung out green placards that read: "Please return your trolley - protect your environment." Behind the scenes, executives such as Bob Williams, a consultant on the oil and gas industry, were clarifying industry's real priority: "To put the environmental lobby out of business . . . There is no greater imperative . . . If the petroleum industry is to survive, it must render the environmental lobby superfluous, an anachronism.

Since then, consumption has rocketed as the western monoculture has engulfed China, India and elsewhere. The partial ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change - representing a 5 per cent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions when 80 per cent cuts are needed - is an essentially trivial gesture in the right direction.

The mass media have been crucial to this disaster. We asked senior Greens why they ignore the obvious problem that the "free press" involves big business reporting on the activities of big business. Stephen Tindale, executive director of Greenpeace UK, did not address that issue, but told us that the media are "not one-dimensional nor are they the same in every country". For example, how climate change "is reported (or not!) in the US, is very different from how it is reported in the UK".

In similar vein, Tony Juniper, chief executive of Friends of the Earth UK, has argued: "The Guardian is certainly considered the voice of progressive and sound environmental thinking." This of a newspaper that endlessly promotes mass consumer advertising of the most destructive kind - "two-for-one" transatlantic flight offers being a particular favourite. The Guardian Media Group owns publications such as Auto Trader, Bike Trader, Truck Trader and the UK's busiest automotive website, [http://www.autotrader.co.uk.]

Juniper told us that "the corporate-controlled media are reluctant to engage with an agenda that apparently speaks against their interests". In reality, the media are not controlled by corporations, they consist of corporations - all focused on the bottom line, all owned by moguls or parent companies, all tied into stock markets.

Don Redding, co-ordinator of 3WE, told us that Britain was fortunate to be blessed with "a strong tradition of independence and objectivity [that] has been maintained across mainstream television news" - staggering nonsense from this flagship coalition of environment and social justice NGOs. Redding insisted that "factual evidence (not polemic)" was required if we were to establish a lack of media objectivity. Only he knows how he has missed evidence that is, by now, overwhelming.

But why are green NGOs apeing the mainstream by refusing to challenge powerful interests in this way? Spencer Fitz-Gibbon, climate-change spokesman for the Green Party of England and Wales, explains all: "If we made general sweeping criticisms of the media, we'd just piss off journalists who would then be less likely to write about us." Alas, Fitz-Gibbon has missed one point: the media are opposed in every fibre of their corporate being to what he and his party are trying to achieve.

It can't be converted or won over. It can only be challenged and replaced by media and politics rooted in reason and compassion rather than bottom-line greed. Or, to use the technical term, people power.

David Cromwell and David Edwards are the editors of MediaLens

last updated 24 February, 2005

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