‘Fair balance’ prevents environmental progress

On the surface, ‘fair balance’ presents itself as a good journalistic practice used to avoid bias and subjectivity. However, when it comes to science reporting, fair balance is inherently flawed. This is because equal space and time are given to science skeptics despite overwhelming evidence proving otherwise. The ratio of credibility to air time/coloumn space in this method is very disproportionate. It would perhaps be more reliable and objective to focus on scientific based journalism (Ward, 2009). Neil deGrasse Tyson puts it brilliantly, you cannot cherry pick science… the good thing about science is it’s true, whether or not you believe in it.” However this is largely what happens, creating general misunderstandings and the idea that science debates are still largely undecided.

One area this is specifically apparent is reporting on climate change.

The public “rely upon media representation to help interpret and make sense of the many complexities relating to climate science and governance” (Boycoff, 2011, p. i). This is why despite 97 per cent of scientists agreeing that climate change is a) real, and b) caused by humans, internationally the consensus among the public is not mirrored – fair and balanced reporting casts doubt where there should be none. Climate change should no longer be discussed in terms of whether or not it exists, but in terms of ‘what are we going to do about it?’. Discussions include a debate of the former are severely impeding the possibility of the latter. This becomes especially problematic when prominent figures and leaders voice their mistrust for the issue, such as Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who said “We have to have a climate change policy because the people believe it’s a danger, but I believe it’s crap” (O’Brien, 2010).

Really, the time for debate has run out. People are already being seriously affected by global warming. The Republic of Kiribati is already facing consequences. Kiribati is a group of islands in the Pacific very close to sea level – it’s highest point above sea level measuring at a mere 2 metres.  Temperatures have increased, sea levels have risen and ocean acidification has continued to climb according to the Kiribati climate website.

These figures are only expected to increase. Kiribati is not a power house nation with the political sway to ensure correct action is taken, but they are being seriously affected by climate change already. It is very likely they will be forced to migrate to other nations as the rising sea levels take over their houses and their lifestyle. They need the world to adopt a human rights approach to climate change, rather than continuing to argue the politics of it. Major countries can afford, at least for now, to remain inactive on climate change, but Kiribati is drowning at the expense of fair and balanced reporting on climate change. Is fair balance really more important than peoples lives?


Image source.


Boykoff, M.T. 2011, Who Speaks for Climate?, Cambridge University Press, USA

O’Brien, K 2010, Tony Abbott joins the 7:30 Report, ABC, viewed October 9, 2014

Ward, B 2009, ‘Journalism ethics and climate change reporting in a period of intense media uncertainty’, Ethics in Science and Environmental Details, vol. 1, pp. 1-3

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