Should Climate Activists Boycott the Mainstream Media?

By Mark Campbell, GreenGreenGreen Editor

The Big One. That name should have alerted the media to the size and strength of the four days of peaceful environmental protest in London, right?

What about the fact that more than 200 organisations, including global names like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, had joined this unprecedented event? Not just some ‘woke lefty loonies’ gluing themselves to roads this time.

Sadly, an all-too-familiar scene panned out. A hugely successful event in terms of like-minded people coming together in a united fight for the health and safety of the entire planet. Very little media coverage.

We shouldn’t have been surprised. The media recently all but ignored the IPCC report, which just so happened to be the biggest warning ever issued to mankind over climate change.

I could not be in London for The Big One, but was watching the excellent Extinction Rebellion coverage of the event on YouTube.

What struck me in particular was the expertise and knowledge of the volunteer presenter/interviewers, the intelligence of the questions they asked people they met on route, and their willingness to hear a full answer instead of cutting people short.

Very much not like the professional media, sadly.

Now this isn’t written from the viewpoint of another frustrated environmentalist. As I watched and listened to countless people, apoplectic at the actual extinction of life on Earth, again being largely ignored by the media, I knew I had to try to help.

Because I’ve been a journalist for more than 30 years.

I can hopefully give some crucial insights into why the media often seems to be the enemy – and give some pointers in how to better get the message across in future.

Will Journalists Listen To The Facts?

First of all, let’s deal with the journalists. I’m not going to dwell on the well-known fact that a handful of billionaires, many with fossil fuels investments, control the vast majority of the media in the UK. That’s not going to change.

The likes of Rupert Murdoch don’t often get involved at ground level, but there is certainly an expectancy that publication editors will defend the interests of their masters, which in simple terms means following a right-wing agenda. 

We can’t do anything about this. No point trying.

So can we educate individual journalists? Yes, of course we can. If you like, send some informative, educational literature to every single journalist working in the UK and beyond.

But that, too, might have little impact. Because as a society, as environmentalists in particular, we expect more from journalists than they are ever likely to deliver.

In all my years in journalism, I believe I have only met a handful of reporters or editors who gave a proper damn about environmental issues. 

The secret to being a good journalist, before specialising in a subject, is to be able to write with apparent authority on just about everything.

But journalists are not all-knowing. I’ve often wanted to know a lot about a little, but journalists actually need to know a little about a lot. So don’t expect them to understand everything about the climate crisis or biodiversity emergency – they need educating, too. 

There is nothing special about journalists in that respect. They are regular people, doing regular things. They will represent society pretty accurately in terms of how many of them are vegan or members of environmental groups, for example. A low percentage, but growing.

Journalists are not a special breed. I have worked with many whose spelling and grammar left a lot to be desired. Others never watched or read the news before coming into work in the morning, so had no knowledge of what was going on. 

Many entered journalism because they liked writing, or enjoyed reading books. These interests don’t necessarily transfer to holding the government to account over issuing harmful fossil fuel contracts.

I’m choosing some extreme examples and ignoring that fact that there are, indeed, some very knowledgable journalists who specialise in environmental issues, and do their best to educate the public about the dangers we face. I’m just saying, in general, don’t expect too much.

The other issue working against groups like Extinction Rebellion is the fact that many environmentalists are sworn enemies of the right-wing press. An XR action stopped 3.5 million copies of national newspapers, including the Daily Mail,  Sun, The Times and Telegraph, from being distributed in September 2020. That won’t be forgiven and forgotten.

Is It Time To Boycott Mainstream Media?

Should environmental, climate and animal-loving activists stop engaging with the media? Imagine the reaction! It might be extremely powerful, but it’s a risky strategy.

There’s certainly a case for being more selective with the media activists speak to.

I appeal to the likes of Earthling Ed and Just Stop Oil to just stop talking to the likes of GB News and Talk TV. You do indeed put across very credible arguments with extreme eloquence, and you may be educating a few, but largely you are talking to an audience that is on the right of the right, and your amazing efforts could be better deployed elsewhere.

A successful campaign by Stop Funding Hate has been carried out against GB News, which has lost advertisers after earning a Fox News-like reputation for its ‘anti-woke’ agenda, demonising trans people, encouraging Covid conspiracies, denying climate change and ridiculing protestors.

Listen… we don’t need these media outlets. Their viewing figures are tiny, anyway. Please don’t legitimise their appalling journalism by playing their game, appearing on their programmes and sharing the content across social media. They don’t deserve the extra publicity. Please stop.

There are some big names out there with diminishing powers. Piers Morgan, Richard Madeley, Nick Ferrari, Mike Graham (see the clip below). All white, middle aged men, struggling to cope with change, all irrelevant, uneducated, embarrassing dinosaurs. Don’t be charmed by their once lofty status. Bin them. The future will not be kind to their legacies.

Mike Graham’s cringeworthy and now infamous moment ‘interviewing’ an activist from Insulate Britain

The thing that really gets to me is this. Journalists are ALL about getting the big story, the big scoop, the front page, the leading article. Yet so many are failing to understand that they are sitting on the biggest story EVER to have occurred in the whole of human existence – and the facts are there to back it up, the data, the actual measurements, it’s so easy to report.

But their news sense is so off-radar, they can’t see it. What a time to be alive! They could be reporting on the biggest story ever! The extinction of the human race and most other life on earth! But then see what banal rubbish they choose to report on instead…. that is simply atrocious journalism.

Getting To The People Who Matter

So what about the readers, the viewers, the people that soak up the media messages and vote with oil-tinted plastic spectacles? Yes – these are the people we need to reach, and we’re just going to have to bypass the mainstream media to get to them.

But how? Let’s take a look at the messaging first.

I have been a nature lover, friend of the planet and environmental campaigner for as long as I can remember, but only recently have I been able to put my skills and passions together, to form GreenGreenGreen, this website with social channels, which is in its formative phase but aims to encourage people to adopt a greener mindset.

I want people, whatever they are doing, to question “is this harming the planet?’ I want people to consider doing EVERYTHING greener, from buying food and items for the home and family, to travelling, to voting, and all decisions in between.

I tell you this because the name GreenGreenGreen was reached after a period of frustration with environmental terminology – and this also turns off the public, and the media.

In an age of soundbites, short attention spans, doomscrolling and quick-to-the-point messaging, I chose ‘green’ to sum up my mission because it was easier to say, remember and understand for most people than the words sustainable, environmental, eco-friendly, earth-friendly or ethical.

People, in general, don’t understand the meanings of biodiversity and circular economies.

Extinction Rebellion quite rightly chose that name because the sixth mass extinction event is taking place right now. But that goes over most people’s heads as well. Remarkable as that sounds. The public will find probably difficulty grasping Citizens’ Assemblies, too.

Even more remarkable, I believe the word ‘climate’ and the phrases ‘climate change’ and ‘climate crisis’ fail to hit home.

Partly because everything is dumbed down these days, partly because no government has ever invested enough in education, partly because of the media problems mentioned earlier, and also because of uneducated or disingenuous politicians blurring the debate, the word ‘climate’ is often confused with weather.

Even when it’s not, so many people have the attitude of, well, if it’s going to be a bit warmer, that will be nice, won’t it?

Tell them about the lives already being lost to the climate crisis overseas through extreme weather events and persistent droughts or floods, and sadly many won’t care. When it hits our own doorsteps on a regular basis, maybe they’ll wake up, but by then it will be too late.

Making The Issues Relevant

So this is indeed about education, and that’s where the skill of the journalist comes in useful. You make the issue relevant to the reader, viewer or listener – in print, on whatever kind of screen, or via radio or podcast.

So, for example, immigration appears to be an issue for a lot of people, and the media. Home Secretary Suella Braverman was accused of fearmongering when claiming that millions of refugees could be trying to enter the UK, but let’s face it, that is exactly what is going to happen when more parts of the world become uninhabitable due to climate change.

So change the narrative, make it more compassionate, but let people know what’s coming down the line. When the question is inevitably asked: ‘How do we stop the boats?’ – well, stop baking and flooding parts of the world where these unfortunate people live, for a start.

People can pretty swiftly change their attitudes when educated. Animal Rising’s action at the Grand National, compounded by live coverage of a tragic horse death at the first hurdle – one of a few that weekend – has certainly put the animal cruelty debate higher up the agenda in the UK.

Horse racing is a sport where, again, rich people rule the roost, and again the right-wing agenda was served in much of the media. It’s not an easy argument to win, but the sight of a horse being killed, after protestors had warned it would happen, rightly turned many stomachs.

We are supposedly a nation of animal lovers – that clearly is a laughable claim. We are a nation of pet lovers. Show people the similarity between the natural behaviours of dogs and pigs, perhaps, or explain why octopus farms are the height of cruelty, educate about sentient beings, about what really goes on in slaughterhouses, about vivisection at our universities, testing on dogs and cats…  these things will be more likely to hit home.

Maybe more honesty about the cruelty of animal agriculture is required to further boost the plant-based revolution, which has been encouraging in its uptake in the UK.

Carbon emissions of course play a huge part in the sorry story of animal agriculture, as does methane, but the measurements we share, the number of kilotonnes perhaps, and the timescales we talk about, does nothing to embed urgency into most people’s brains.

We All Need To Work Together

But how do we get the message across that we all need to work together to save all life on earth? I can understand the desire to reach people through the media, because so many connect with media publications in one form or another, but if the media is distorting the message before it reaches the target, what’s the point?

Look at the alternatives. Go back to The Big One. Those 200-plus groups that took part have combined memberships of millions of people – most of them contactable by email. That’s a starting point, for groups to work together on future communications and campaigns.

On my own website I have compiled a list of Media Publications That Actually Report on Climate, Nature and Extinction.

I hope people use this guide to learn more. Imagine if these titles could all work together on a joint publication for the nation and the world!

Ah but then… apart from the fact that these things cost money, bear in mind that many people buy their Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Sun and the like out of habit. The editorial agenda seeps into their brains and affects the way they vote and live their lives, but they’ve actually bought the paper because they like the sports coverage! Or they like the free puzzles supplement! 

It used to frustrate the hell out of me that, whatever wonderful article I wrote for local newspapers, surveys still revealed that most people bought the paper to read the Births, Marriages and Deaths notices!

And be encouraged by this fact. A lot of people are drifting through life, doing the best they can day-to-day, and will be receptive to new, startling information. Getting those details into their hands and heads is a more difficult matter, but the messaging does not have to rely on the media.

Many green groups now have YouTube channels and social media accounts where graphics and videos can be very powerful, and can reach millions of people. Email newsletters can make a significant impact, if those 200+ groups pool resources for a largely common aim. Even (recycled) paper newsletters, especially for the older generation, are still an option, if the messaging is not complicated.

Be Smarter To Arm People With The Facts

The future calls, not necessarily for more ingenious ways to protest, but smarter ways to communicate the facts to the public.

And what will people do with these facts? Hopefully they will want to vote for greener policies, either by putting pressure on their own MPs and councillors, or maybe by voting for the Green Party, perhaps for the first time in their life. 

Is it time to closer align the Green Party with all the groups that took part in The Big One? Perhaps it is.

An educated public will also make greener choices when shopping and travelling (as much as it can be afforded). This greener mindset I talked about could spread and embed and lead to positive changes.

Environmental groups are on the right track, and it is so encouraging to see their movements and reaches on the rise. 

But in terms of bringing vast swathes of the public on board, to create a green army, don’t rely on the vast majority of the mainstream media to help get your message across.

Be the media yourselves.

That challenge is the next Big One.

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