We Watched GB News’ First Week of Climate Coverage and… Ouch

GB News gave a platform to climate science deniers and went in hard on environmental policies in its first week of broadcasting.
Analysis
We Watched GB News’ First Week of Climate Coverage and… Ouch
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Andrew Neil GB News
Andrew Neil prepares to broadcast from the GB News studio.

It’s been a bumpy start for the new kid on the block. Such have been the teething problems of Britain’s youngest news channel that there’s already a dedicated Twitter account posting clips of the gaffes and technical hitches besetting its programmes.

The channel has also been subject to an advertising boycott from some major brands, some of which quickly rowed back on the decision once some unpalatable truths about their own activity came to light. Who needs soap operas when you’ve got drama like this?

GB News devotees hoped the channel would bring a breath of fresh air to a supposedly liberal-dominated media landscape. Opponents feared the rise of a Fox News-style outlet, peddling “hate”, misinformation and confected outrage, backed by investors who promoted a “hard” Brexit and have taken funding from the Koch family, notorious for bankrolling climate obstructivism.

There was a sense that the channel’s DNA could lead it to present unbalanced or inaccurate coverage on climate change. A week after its launch, it seems those fears (with a few exceptions) are being realised.

Deniers and David Attenborough

Within the first week, the channel’s presenters have already interviewed two commentators associated with the UK’s main climate science denial group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). 

Hereditary Tory peer Matt Ridley, an adviser to the group, came on to say that higher levels of carbon dioxide were “greening” the earth in “all environments”, including rainforests and arid regions — a trope often used to play down the seriousness of climate change.

Another presenter chose to invite on the group’s Deputy Director Andrew Montford to speak about the allegedly growing risk of power outages in the shift to net zero emissions, only to be met with a black screen, as Montford’s own connection appeared to fail. You really couldn’t make it up.

Meanwhile, ex-BBC presenter and GB News Chairman Andrew Neil used his interview with Rishi Sunak to repeatedly ask the Chancellor about the “eye-watering” costs of meeting the UK’s net-zero target. Neil failed to mention the costs of not reaching net-zero, though, or the benefits of doing so (despite Sunak pointing out it was “wrong to look at just one side of the ledger”).

Meanwhile, the channel’s coverage of Birmingham’s new Clean Air Zone, designed to cut pollution in line with government targets, failed to say exactly which drivers would be impacted (around 25 percent are expected to be), giving the impression all vehicle users could be slapped with the emissions charge when driving into the city centre.

That said, there has been some positive reporting on environmental issues, with a piece on Brits’ strong support for electric vehicles and a clip of Sir David Attenborough calling on G7 leaders to do more on climate change. 

So, an inauspicious start, at best.

‘Extinction Rebellion Nutters’

GB News doesn’t appear to have a dedicated reporter on the environment or climate beat, and it didn’t respond when DeSmog asked whether the channel would be appointing one (as supposed competitors such as Sky News recently have). Likewise, it didn’t respond when DeSmog pointed out its staff’s previous statements on climate change — which make interesting reading — and asked whether this was likely to impact its coverage.

GB News’s head honcho, Neil, has been criticised for giving climate science deniers an easy ride in the past. Bob Ward at the London School of Economics previously described his BBC show as a “favourite stomping ground for ‘sceptics’”. Neil has also been accused of making his own blunders and more recently mocked climate projections when discussing a new UN IPCC report. 

Neil has previously said that “climate change was real and needed to be confronted. But that did not mean siding with the nonsense scaremongering of extinction rebellion.” Perhaps in a foreshadowing of his approach with GB News, he added “it’s clear how even the mainstream media would like to close down debate by stigmatising even the slightest questioning.”

Meanwhile, Dan Wootton, who joined GB News from The Sun, in an interview with the prime minister’s father Stanley Johnson argued that the British public shouldn’t be expected to change their lifestyles when the world is going “softly softly” on getting China to cut its emissions — an argument used by climate science deniers including GWPF founder Nigel Lawson. Wootton has previously used his platform to argue against environmental policies, describing a proposed end to the (now 11-year-long) fuel duty freeze last year as unfair on motorists, and branding the lack of a third runway at Heathrow Airport “beyond depressing”. He also called a Channel 4 leaders’ debate on climate change a “vehicle for Corbynistas and Extinction Rebellion nutters”.

Wootton isn’t the only presenter to enjoy using environmental activists as a punch bag.

Alex Phillips, a former Brexit Party MEP, has talked about “Greta Syndrome” and claimed rainforests are being “torn down for soy and palm oil to make appalling ‘animal-free’ produce” (don’t mention that Amazon deforestation is mainly driven by meat consumption.) Michelle Dewberry, winner of the second series of The Apprentice, has dismissed Extinction Rebellion protesters as hypocrites. And Mercy Muroki has labelled one of their protests the “most middle-class-looney-liberal pastime” she’d ever heard of.

Tom Harwood, a former reporter for the right-wing blog Guido Fawkes, which regularly gives a platform to the GWPF, has also been fiercely critical of climate activists. He has also dismissed calls for a stricter climate target than the current 2050 net zero commitment as anti-scientific, though is at pains to state that climate change “presents huge challenges”.

Meanwhile, Inaya Iman, a former columnist for the libertarian and Koch-funded Spiked website, has argued that Greta Thunberg’s activism has led to a “cult of youth” and recently featured in a webinar organised by the GWPF, in which she criticised the “weaponisation of the precautionary principle” in relation to both the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.

And Neil Oliver, until now best known for enthusing about the coastlines of Britain, has promoted the work of Professor Valentina Zharkova (another GWPF favourite), who has been criticised by other climate scientists for errors in her research.

Of course, this could all change. Neil promised viewers on the channel’s launch that it would provide “a huge range of voices that reflect the views and values of our United Kingdom”. But after a week’s worth of coverage, it seems the channel is leaning heavily towards serving the small minority of Brits who don’t think the world is confronted with a climate crisis.

Additional research by Phoebe Cooke, Michaela Herrmann and Gaia Lamperti.

We Watched GB News’ First Week of Climate Coverage and… Ouch
Rich Collett-White is Deputy Editor of DeSmog. He joined the organisation in December 2018 as a UK researcher and reporter, having previously worked in communications for the climate charity Operation Noah.

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