Duncan Stewart of Eco Eye and About the House fame had a professional breakdown on Shane Coleman’s Newstalk show earlier today, or so you’d be led to believe if you read the Irish Times, Irish Independent, Irish Mirror or Journal.ie. All four of which jumped at an opportunity to produce a ‘famous person loses it live on air‘ headline, following a fairly inconsequential, if uncommon, argument about air time and radio convention.
And for good reason too, the stories were No.1 in the ‘Most Read’ stats for both the Times and the Indo. While the more discerning readers of the Mirror and Journal appeared more interested in other affairs (a ‘giant rat’ and a fatal traffic accident respectively).
The “environmentalist” (if there’s an ‘ist’ at the end of someone’s title that typically means they’re an ideologue and thus unreceptive to reason) was said to have had a “meltdown” live on air. Caught in a “bizarre rant” or “fraught encounter”, depending on whether you prefer tabloid or broadsheet size, while discussing climate change.
Ironically, the thrust of Coleman and Stewart’s 18 minute discussion (of which 1.5 mins were taken up by the aforementioned argument) evolved around the Irish media’s, in Stewart’s words, “irresponsible” reporting of climate change:
“Everybody seems to avoid climate change because it’s not popular, it doesn’t bring in ratings, it’s not good for advertising, and that’s a fundamental issue with all media, including press”
And the Irish media’s response to Stewart’s criticism is to forefront the trivial, at the expense of the substantive points raised. Yet even in the course of the interview Stewart’s criticisms of RTE were discounted as little more than a ‘row with RTE’, reflecting succinctly the majority view of media criticism in the Irish news industry. Critical media analysis has only one value, the party political.
RTE’s reporting of climate change is a topic we covered back in 2008 in response to a Primetime segment titled ‘Questions raised over global warming’ and earlier in 2007 in relation to the Corrib gas project. In the first case, RTE fabricated one of those media ‘debates’ where a scientist is pitched against a ‘skeptic’ (in that instance, a documentary maker who’s documentary was funded by a mining company) to argue over decades of scientific research in a four minute window between ad breaks and serious sounding video segments fronted by one or more of RTE’s roving reporters.
More recently, two pieces by John Gibbons and the Irish Examiner’s Victoria White went over the same ground. Gibbons, whose climate change column in the Irish Times was cancelled four years ago (and who we interviewed at the time), pointed to a Sunday Times report which had identified clear deficiencies in RTE’s environment coverage:
“Sunday Times report pointed out, “30 major climate-related stories carried by other media between January 2012 and April 2013 were ‘entirely absent’ from Six One News, Prime Time and RTE News online”
Gibbons’ account suggests that RTE’s stubborn attachment to the “Is the climate change man made?” format is causing actual experts in on the subject to spurn requests to appear on the channel. Raising the question, what quality of information are we getting about the climate at all?
White’s Examiner piece echoed many of the same points:
“On RTÉ news climate change was almost always presented as an international news story so that the Irish farm fodder crisis, for instance, was never linked to climate change. Even as an international issue, coverage has collapsed to the point that the recent UN climate talks in Warsaw were not covered at all.”
Stewart later apologised to his Twitter followers, saying, “I honestly hope that with all that happened today that the seriousness of
#climatechange is not lost. Its too important an issue”, to which I responded, “you raised plenty of serious issues, the fact that Irish news orgs chose to forefront the ‘meltdown’ story proved your point”.
[You can listen to the interview here]