Media Watch. How News Corp and The Australian mislead us on climate change.

Great Barrier Reef coral bleaching

The Australian and Cairns Post highlight a dissenting view on whether global warming is the cause of mass coral bleaching. 

The following are extracts from Media Watch of 23 April 2018.

JUANITA PHILLIPS: Scientists say the Great Barrier Reef was forever changed by a catastrophic marine heatwave in 2016. A two-year study of the extreme weather found the southern reef was mostly untouched, but many coral communities up north died instantly in the hot water.

TERRY HUGHES: They didn’t die slowly of starvation, they died directly of heat stress. They cooked because the temperatures were so extreme.

— ABC News, 19 April, 2018

That ABC News report featuring Professor Terry Hughes followed on from his shocking study published in Nature last week, which revealed that almost a third of the Great Barrier Reef suffered catastrophic coral die back in the great bleaching of 2016.

Hughes’ two-year survey found that two-thirds of the coral on that one-third of the reef is now dead and unlikely to grow back for a decade or more.

And he had this warning for the future:

TERRY HUGHES: The incidence of coral bleaching around the world is increasing, driven by global warming.

— ABC News, 19 April, 2018

But there was much less alarm over this bad news and very little fanfare at The Australian, which gave the story this strange headline:

Not all scientists agree on cause of Great Barrier Reef damage

— The Australian, 19 April, 2018

And which opened up with this first paragraph from environment editor Graham Lloyd:

The ecology of a third of the Great Barrier Reef had been transformed by coral bleaching by 2016 and may never fully recover but not all scientists were prepared to say that climate change was definitely to blame.

— The Australian, 19 April, 2018

Well, no doubt that’s true. Unanimity is hard to find.

But Professor Hughes, who’s a world expert on coral bleaching, was blaming climate change, and a bunch of experts were on record agreeing with him.

So, who did The Australian find to disagree?

Jochen Kaempf, an oceanographer in the College of Science and Engineering at Flinders University, said “the claimed link between the 2016 heatwave and global warming has no scientific basis”.

— The Australian, 19 April, 2018

The Australian took Kaempf’s comment from Scimex, the Science Media Exchange, which offered reaction to the Nature study from seven experts in the field, of which Dr Kaempf was the only one not to give resounding support to Hughes’s conclusions.

But it wasn’t just The Australian that seized on Kaempf’s claim, with News Corp’s Cairns Post also using a turbocharged version of the quote to lead their story:

Link between Great Barrier Reef bleaching and global warming “has no scientific basis”: researcher

— Cairns Post, 19 April, 2018

So, does Jochen Kaempf not believe in man-made global warming? Well, actually, yes, he does.

In fact, in August 2016 he was one of 154 scientists who signed an open letter to Malcolm Turnbull, calling on the Australian government:

… to tackle the root causes of an unfolding climate tragedy and do what is required to protect future generations and nature, including meaningful reductions of Australia’s peak carbon emissions and coal exports, while there is still time.

— The Conversation, 25 August, 2016

That famous open letter cited soaring global temperatures, a rise in greenhouse gas levels, an increase in extreme weather events, including in Australia, and an increase in acidity affecting coral reefs as major causes of concern.

So, what was Kaempf actually trying to say about this latest reef study? Well, it’s a far more technical point than the Cairns Post or The Australian made it out to be.

Because Dr Kaempf told Media Watch:

… technically, one cannot link an observed heat wave that lasted “only” several weeks to global warming which requires measurements over a much longer time span.

— Dr Jochen Kaempf, Flinders University, 20 April, 2018

But, he then went on to say that the coral bleaching of 2016 was serious and sad and that:

Global warming via ocean acidification in conjunction with marine heat waves, such as that observed in 2016, poses a severe threat to the health of the [Great Barrier Reef] …

Hence, more effort is required to protect this important region.

— Dr Jochen Kaempf, Flinders University, 20 April, 2018

Now that is not the message you’d have got from the Cairns Post headline which Dr Kaempf described as “grossly misleading”. Or indeed from The Australian.

But no surprises there because both have form for downplaying the reef’s grief.

Back in 2016, for example, The Australian ignored 2500 of the world’s coral reef experts who were warning that:

Coral reefs … are threatened with complete collapse under rapid climate change.

— 13th International Coral Reef Symposium, Letter to Malcolm Turnbull, 25 June, 2016

In their place it unearthed a scientist who specialises in bird migration who disagreed with the 2500 experts, and they ran with the headline:

The bleaching of parts of the reef is dividing the scientific world

— The Australian, 24 June, 2016

And last year, when the Great Barrier Reef Authority’s dire warning about the impact of coral bleaching was making news around the world, The Australian also failed to report it in the paper.

At least this time they’ve covered the story. But they just couldn’t resist twisting it for their readers.

 

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One Response to Media Watch. How News Corp and The Australian mislead us on climate change.

  1. Michael Hart says:

    I would not fret too much about the The Australian’s continued misrepresentation and perverse ideological biases – nobody reads the wretched rag anymore, except politicians and Murdoch staff. In my little rural idyll (so called conservative heartland) they probably sell about 50 copies a day (57,000 possible customers), my local newsagent store does not even bother to carry it any more. Same for most newspapers here now. Everybody still watches TV or is plugged into the Bragbook via the IPhone, media there whizzes past at such a rate nobody pays any attention anyway.

    Deplorable as their biased and destructive world view is the regrettable part is that Politicians even pay attention to what is in it, nobody else even reads it. How about some real circulation figures to prove the point – highly unlikely!

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