climate change media

How the Guardian is changing climate journalism

Newspapers face something of a challenge when it comes to climate reporting. They want to report climate stories with the seriousness it deserves, but most newspapers rely on advertising for much of their revenue. Almost all papers carry adverts for cars, holidays and airlines. This is not a problem for newspapers that are climate sceptic in their editorial line. For those that take their climate reporting seriously, it can lead to a clash of messaging. As George Monbiot described it, “the editorials urge us to cut our emissions. The ads urge us to raise them.”

That was back in 2007, when Monbiot raised the issue of fossil fuel advertising in the paper that he writes for. Would they consider banning it, so that their stories about the climate crisis are not undermined by the ads? They said no. Dropping them would be “financially damaging and ethically complex”.

13 years later, The Guardian announced this week that it is finally going to stop running adverts from fossil fuel companies:

We have decided that we will no longer accept advertising from fossil fuel extractive companies on any of the Guardian’s websites and apps, nor in the Guardian, Observer and Guardian Weekly in print. Our decision is based on the decades-long efforts by many in that industry to prevent meaningful climate action by governments around the world.

They explain that they will still run ads for cars and holidays, because they still rely on advertising for 40% of their revenue. Fossil fuel companies themselves are different, as they have actively impeded efforts to transition away fro the energy sources that drive climate change.

It’s fair to say that The Guardian has been on a bit of a journey on the topic of climate change. When the long standing editor, Alan Rusbridger, announced that he was stepping down, he said that his biggest regret was that he hadn’t covered climate change well enough. It led to a year long focus on the topic, and a more campaigning angle to its journalism through the Keep it in the Ground project.

The new editor, Katherine Viner, has continued this focus. It stepped up last year with an unusual journalistic ‘climate pledge’, where the newspaper promised three things:

  • To report and investigate the full global story.
  • To change its language to reflect the seriousness of the issue.
  • And to make the Guardian itself carbon neutral by 2030.

The ban on fossil fuel advertising is one more step towards responsible climate journalism, and I hope it isn’t the last British paper to take action like this.

It certainly isn’t the only paper that has changed. The Mirror ran a climate change issue recently, covering climate stories in every section of the newspaper, right through to the sports pages. The Express and the Mail have both softened their snarky rhetoric with changes of editorship in the last couple of years. The Telegraph is a hold-out, and still employs climate denying columnists and commentators. Unfortunately, that’s the paper most popular with Conservative MPs.

Still, there is movement in the British press, and the Guardian has led the way on that. And of course, it would be perfectly legitimate to ban fossil fuel advertising wholesale, and stop giving newspaper editors a difficult decision. We don’t allow tobacco advertising any more, and there’s a strong case for banning the promotion of fossil fuels. But I suspect I have a few more years to wait on that one.

  • 350.org have a petition to get Reuters to turn down fossil fuels ads that you can sign here.

2 comments

  1. I wonder has Ms Viner calculated how much the newspaper would cost if it were to move away from foreign holiday/cruise adverts. Perhaps any other funding models are problematic.

    1. I suspect they probably have, as their announcement is very transparent about where their funding comes from. They have moved more towards supporters and subscribers to try and reduce the reliance on advertising, and if that continues there may come a time when they can drop that stuff too.

      All newspapers are struggling at the moment, so anyone that turns down the business of fossil fuels is doing a brave thing.

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