(Greenpeace/Cunningham, J. 2001. Japanese whaling ship confronted by Greenpeace ‘rubber ducky’ in the Southern Ocean. Media images like this helped create the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary)

Introduction

Section
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context
Page
6.1

The media is one of the three, great ‘poles’ of power in the world (alongside political and corporate power) and how they frame and present ‘the environment’ has a profound effect on how we respond to Nature.

Those who doubt the power of the media must have been asleep during the coronavirus pandemic. I watched the development of the issue closely when it first arose in my country, early in 2020. At first, politicians tried to respond to the increasingly shrill alarms of the media with measured and reasonable comment, with thought and context about what was developing, but this would not do for the media. Day after day they battered politicians with ever-more hysterical cries of ‘people will die!’, with more and more extreme and fearful pronouncements of those in the medical world – often searched for worldwide for suitably alarmist comment – and forced politicians into a bidding war to introduce increasingly draconian, totalitarian measures. Of course, after a time, the more canny within the political class found , I’m sure to their initial surprise, that people actually liked laws, fines, lockdowns and restrictions, and they have been joyfully surfing this authoritarian wave to electoral success ever since. I have never witnessed anything remotely like this in my lifetime, and while coronavirus is real and serious, the media has been director, stage manager, marketer, promoter, reviewer, and audience controller, for the most extraordinary ‘show’ and display of power on earth.

(Wiley/The Age. 2019. Non Sequitur)

Media power has been arrived at by various means, but not least of these is the simple driver of scale. Human society is now so large, too large for any sort of direct contact and evaluation between individuals, that connection and interaction can be achieved only through the media. If an Ancient Greek wanted to know what Socrates was like and what he was on about, he had only to go to the Agora in Athens and hear him speak. If he wanted to know what was happening politically, he would go to the ecclesia (popular assembly) held on the Pnyx hill and listen to, and judge, the various speakers directly. Compare this to the modern world where almost no one will ever see their political representatives in person and every image, statement and ‘scene’ will have been filtered, refracted, amplified, enhanced, distorted, and managed, by the media and innumerable handlers.

(Greenpeace/Cunningham, J. 2001. Japanese whaling ship confronted by Greenpeace ‘rubber ducky’ in the Southern Ocean. Media images like this helped create the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary)

While being somewhat in shock at the power and reach of the media over these last few years, it is important to mention that it can be a power for good, as well as for self-interest and irresponsibility. At times, the environment has benefitted greatly from positive media portrayals, from media recognition of environmental context and its importance for our lives, and T10 mentions many of these (e.g. ‘Life on Earth’ Section 1.5.7, ‘My Octopus Teacher’ 1.5.2, ‘Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend, Franklin River’ photograph and advertisements 1.8.3, and ‘Off Track’ podcasts 1.5.9). Here, the media not only introduces Nature to the many, it provides insight, wonder, curiosity, and concern. Undoubtedly, many advances achieved in environmental protection would not have occurred without positive media representation; for instance, the ‘saving’ of Fraser Island in Queensland from sandmining, or the reduction of whaling in the Southern Ocean through the creation of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, or the reductions in acid rain in parts of North America and Europe.

On the other side of the equation, the media can do the environment much harm, perhaps through its greatest weakness – lack of perspective, proportion, context and consequence.

(A sample of what my computer screen first throws up under the heading ‘Australian news’ on 2/2/2022; a bizarre, fractured, selection of the trivial, the obscure, and the paid for).

 

In an ever-more fractured, short-term and competitive media environment, items must ‘shout’ at the listener/viewer/reader for attention, must be extreme and intense and exciting, and often this is achieved through denial of any sort of wider context or perspective which might indicate that the item perhaps wasn’t very important after all, or might have negative, wider consequences, even though the immediate effect is portrayed as new, shiny and positive.This is the way of virtually all economic and technology reporting, of all representations or exhortations for growth (see Section 3), and increasingly, of much ‘social’ reporting(e.g. ‘Dam will provide for 2,000 regional jobs’, or ‘Smelter will lead to local housing boom’, etc…).This approach denies the reality of the environmental context of our lives, the cradle within which we are held, and instead manufactures a dislocated, fractured world of the ‘trinkets’ of growth, a world without responsibility and consequence in time or pace.

A second structural problem for the media and environment is the refusal to reflect, to acknowledge problems or criticism, which makes improvement impossible. For an industry whose stock-in-trade is criticism of others, it has an extraordinarily defensive response to any criticism of itself, invariably dismissing same as either a gross over-emphasis of their – the media’s – power and impact (the feigned impotence of this stance is disingenuous in the extreme), or that the criticism is a veiled attempt at censorship, an attack on freedom of speech. Of course, sometimes it is, but this handy shield and deflector is used far too often and far too conveniently to avoid dealing with genuine concerns and problems.

In addition to structural problems, the media can be, and most concernedly is, I believe, increasingly, anti-environment. The rise of the New Right with its aggressive capitalism has gone hand-in-hand with media power and one need go no further than the quotes of one of the world’s largest media moguls – Rupert Murdoch – to clarify the situation:

The Australian (newspaper; owned by Rupert Murdoch) stated that it was proud of its attempts to destroy the parliamentary alliance between Labor and the Greens, and declared that the Greens ‘should be destroyed at the ballot box’ (The Australian, 2010). Rupert Murdoch echoed these views. In October, Murdoch told a journalist that the ‘bloody Greens’ were a clear threat to Australia’s continued economic prosperity (Dusevic, 2010)”1. [The ‘bloody Greens’ are the party in Australia most strongly associated with environmental interests]. This full-on attack of the New Right in the media and elsewhere is explored in great detail in Kerryn Higgs’ ‘Collision Course’ – see Section 1.3.4 ‘Books’ – and can best be summed up with the quote from Ron Arnold, vice-president of the Centre for Free Enterprise in the US: “Environmentalists, I’m coming to get you…We’re out to kill the fuckers. We’re simply trying to eliminate them. Our goal is to destroy environmentalism once and for all”2.

There need be no smugness on the left of politics, either, re representations of the environment, as I believe the New Left and its associated media, has abandoned, or is in the process of abandoning, the environment. Their stance, and that of the media that is left-sensitive, is generally less directly negative or aggressive than that of the New Right, but sadly, the consequences may be nearly as bad. This position has, at its core, a devout human-centrism, an almost-worship of the human being and his/her essential rightness and sovereignty over all they survey. Nature is entirely extrinsic and is all well and good so long as it supplies ecosystem services, but anything beyond that – towards the intrinsic – is suspect, at best, downright morally wrong, at worst. Nature is, apparently, in these circumstances, antagonistic to, and in competition with, human interests, and must make way. With perhaps just 1% of earth’s land vertebrates being wild animals3, one wonders when Nature may perhaps be able to be considered?

This reflexive negativism of the New Left towards Nature has been rising over the last several decades, but I do not know why or how. I started to notice it a number of years back when the doyen of morning, public-broadcast, radio in my state (a traditionally left-leaning broadcaster) began every segment with any environmental advocate or academic with the sneering: “If you think we are all going back to live in caves you have another think coming”. This would be followed by sniggers and further snide remarks whenever they tried to speak. Breath-taking insight and sophistication from the public broadcaster. At about the same time I started to notice strident anti-parks/protected areas comments coming out of left-leaning papers, such as the Guardian in the UK, for example, in the petulant article ‘Wild Lies – who runs this planet?’4, in response to the establishment of national parks, and in the same paper, nasty bigotry directed at anyone who dared to mention that overpopulation may be a problem (by their environment reporter, no less!5). Not long after, the federal public broadcaster in my country began demonstrating the same narrow hardening of position by shutting down any discussion of population matters and, indeed, becoming an open champion of the fatuous ‘big Australia’ (see Section 5, ‘Population’, 5.5, 5.8 and 5.9).

(Vidal, J. 2002. Attack on national parks from The Age/Guardian. At times, the New Left and its associated media seem as keen on the egregious ‘Man vs Nature’ dichotomy as the New Right)

 

Defenders of these media outlets would say that this is unfair, that they have represented, and do, still, strongly represent environmental interests, but I fear this is becoming less and less so. For these outlets, ‘environment’ has greatly narrowed to become ‘climate change’ and ‘indigenous rights’, and, of course, there is overlap and complementarity here, but the environment, and these two issues, are so much more, are not one and the same, no matter how worthy a cause these issues may be. Support for ‘the environment’ seems to persist only as long as it is seen to align with these two issues, and is abandoned or opposed as soon as it is seen to be at a distance from these topics, or in real or imagined opposition. Noone for a moment is saying that climate change is not very important, but as pointed out already in T10, it accounts for only around 10%of our current environmental declines(see Section ‘State of the Environment’, IPBES Report)and if, by a miracle, was solved tomorrow, we would still be in the deepest environmental trouble as the root causes and drivers of our problems–our relationship with Nature and our insatiable desire for growth–would be unchanged. Likewise, the extremely important and sensitive issue of indigenous rights, unless visualised as in harmony with, and protective of, Nature, can become just a re-working of the old, tired, ‘right’ to own, consume, control and ‘develop’,and lead to degradation rather than protection of the last vestiges of the natural world.(See Section1.1.10 ‘Killing Nature in the Mind’).

This ’Media’ section of T10 will provide a taste of media theory and structure in 6.2, but this will be very generalised and brief as I have neither an academic or work background in the media and readers wanting to go further will have to drive their own investigation. In the webpages following I will rely on personal experience of dealing with the media on a range of environmental issues. This experience has led me to suggest that there are five basic environment ‘stories’ and angles in the media and I will introduce examples of same in webpages 6.3-6.7 (Nature as dangerous; Nature as classist/racist; Nature as cute and the Optimism Imperative; Nature as a stage; and Nature as important in its own right). In webpage 6.8 I will discuss ways of interacting with the media and suggest how to get a better, fairer, environmental context and consequences, into media stories.

 

1 Hobbs, M., McKnight, D. 2021. ‘Kick this mob out’: the Murdoch Media and the Australian Labor Government (2007-2013). Global Media Jnl. – Aust. Edn., Vol. 15, Iss. 1.

2 Helvarg, D. 1994. The War Against the Greens: The ‘Wise-use’ Movement, the New Right, and Anti-Environmental Violence. Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, USA.

3 Smil, V. 2011. Harvesting the Biosphere.: The Human Impact. Population and Development Review, 37 (4), Dec.

4 Vidal, J. 2002. Wild Lies. Guardian UK, as re-printed in The Age, 3rd January, Melbourne, Australia.

5 Monbiot, G. 2020. Population Panic. Guardian UK, August 26th, London, UK.

Explore Other Media Environmental Context

6.1 Introduction

The media is one of the three, great ‘poles’ of power in the world (alongside political and corporate power) and how they frame and present ‘the environment’ has a profound effect on how we respond to Nature. Those who doubt the power of the me...

6.2 Media Structures and Filters

Well-known linguist and public intellectual, Naom Chomsky, has suggested that the mass media needs to be understood through its operations, or ‘filters’, of which he thinks there are five. A short video (< 5 mins) introducing the filters can be...

6.3 Five Environment Stories: Nature as Dangerous/The Enemy

The understandable and primal fear of being out of our element, vulnerable, and exposed to danger, is fertile ground for the media. It seems that it doesn’t take much to turn caution into downright terror, and the famous film, ‘Jaws’, was a classi...

6.4 Nature as Classist/Racist

The old saying of: ‘To a hammer, everything looks like a nail’, informs much of this response to the natural world. If your framework of the world is race and class, and your modus operandi is uncovering racism and classism and repression, then al...

6.5 Nature as Cute and the Optimism Imperative

Thankfully, this page offers some relief from the truly depressing depictions of Nature and those who care for her in 6.3 and 6.4. This said, the ‘Nature is cute’ formula isn’t without its problems, particularly as to depth and context, but at lea...

6.6 Nature as a Stage

While listening to evening radio on the public broadcaster a few years ago, the presenter, who was new to radio, said how much he’d learnt from experienced radio people, such as the oft-lauded morning presenter, whom I have spoken of previously (s...

6.7 Nature as Important in its Own Right

Thankfully, after this sometimes profoundly depressing journey through the media’s use and abuse of Nature, there is a group of stories and a section of the media that takes Nature seriously, engages with it deeply, and nourishes our appreciation ...

6.8 Better Outcomes

There are many books, websites and training courses on ‘dealing with the media’, and a good, straightforward and commonsense structure is that adopted by CP Communications - 5 great media training tips (publicrelationssydney.com.au) – and I will b...

Explore Other Sections

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship 1.1 Articles 1.2 Art Installations 1.3 Books 1.4 Buildings 1.5 Film, Documentaries, Podcasts 1.6 Music 1.7 Paintings 1.8 Photographs 1.9 Poems 1.10 Spiritual Responses
1/11

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship

This section is designed to foster appreciation and insight that will – hopefully – lead to novel ways to build a better relationship between human beings and Nature. This section is also atypical ...
2. Reduce Consumption
2. Reduce Consumption

2. Reduce Consumption

I hope Reneé Descartes would forgive us for saying that, at least for the modern world, he was wrong.  When, in 1637, he said: “I think, therefore I am”, he could not have anticipated that the majo...
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

In a supposedly secular age there has arisen a global religion and god like never before, a religion whose reach and power makes every other belief system before it seem pitiful and insignificant: ...
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

What we do in our day-to-day lives can have great impact. Section Four divides up these actions into three groups – Work (4.2 & 4.3), Volunteering (4.4), and Action, e.g. voting, protesting, et...
5. Reduce Population
5. Reduce Population

5. Reduce Population

Even on top of Mt. Everest, in one of the remotest, most difficult places on earth, there is a great traffic-jam of people jostling for position. And yet, ever more vociferously, we deny that overp...
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

The media is one of the three, great ‘poles’ of power in the world (alongside political and corporate power) and how they frame and present ‘the environment’ has a profound effect on how we respond...
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

New York is an exciting, mesmerising place. Human culture is extraordinary and often wonderful. Our powers of transformation of the natural world seem limitless. The trouble is, we don’t seem to be...
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

Our current energy largesse is an extraordinary ‘gift’, an unprecedented gift of the ages; millions of years to produce and from millions of years ago. Coal, oil and gas, forming...
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

Just as with the previous section – ‘Energy’ – which is, inescapably, all about fossil fuels so pre-eminent and extraordinary has been their dominance and transformation of the world in the last 20...
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

Section 10 will attempt to organise this enormous topic by addressing the context and status of pollution in 10.2, before focussing in on air pollution; particularly greenhouse gas pollution and cl...