Just one week ago I watched an interesting discussion on Reyers Laat (a talk show of the Flemish television). It wasn’t climate related, it was actually about the terroristic attacks in Paris. Part of the discussion was the role of the media in the current fear. By focusing on the negative things the media gives the impression that we live in a worrisome world.
The host invited among others the editor-in-chief of the VRT television news, Björn Soenens. He stated that the media should play another role in society. The media should privide a framework, give more background, insight, context. In that way the public would be better prepared to judge such situations. That is a noble mission, but seeing the reaction of one participant in the discussion showed me not everybody believed him. I wasn’t impressed either. I knew that the VRT news wasn’t exactly an example of these aspirations. His news program got mentioned several times in this blog for its bias in climate communication.
Just take a look at some examples from his own organization. This is how the global temperatures of 2014 were presented in the online version of the vrt news:2014 was the warmest year worldwide since 1880 (Dutch) and Worldwide heat records can’t be a coincidence anymore (Dutch).
Basically they only report on the NASA and NOAA datasets and from this they concluded that 2014 is the warmest year.
This is what they didn’t explain:
- That GISS and NOAA are not only players. There are several others that hadn’t 2014 as the warmest year ever. For whatever reason the VRT online news didn’t report on them.
- The surface stations datasets are the least reliable. Not reported.
- The actual increase compared to the last record is 0.02 °C and an error margin that is much bigger (0.09 °C for NOAA). Would put the numbers into context, but no, not reported to the public.
- The probability of 2014 being the warmest year is 38% (NASA) and 48% (NOAA): “more unlikely than likely”. Yet not even a peep about this to the public.
It is going wrong at the very start. NASA and NOAA reported one-sided to the public. Later on, the media didn’t check the information that they received from NASA and NOAA and broad casted this as such to the public.
Basically, no background, no insight, no context.
You say that Björn Soenens’s belief is that
“The media should provide a framework, give more background, insight, context. In that way the public would be better prepared to judge such situations.”
I would support that, but with an important clause. There are multiple interpretations possible, so pluralism and competition should be encouraged. Most of all, we all should encourage people to compare and contrast different ideas, even those we think to be wrong. That way, even if we promote ideas that are inferior (or at some distant point in the future are demonstrated to be inferior), by engaging and challenging in an atmosphere of fair play, we can get those with the superior ideas to articulate why they are superior and (very likely as a result) improve and develop those ideas.