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The Mail gives 5 times more space to the Global Warming Policy Foundation than to any other source on climate

  • 27 Jul 2011, 15:00
  • Neil Roberts

The Daily Mail has given more than five times as much space to the Global Warming Policy Foundation's views in its recent coverage of climate change and 'green taxes' than to any other source.

According to former Independent environment correspondent Nicholas Schoon:

"The Mail has 'put on the war paint' (a Dacre phrase) and is campaigning against what it calls green taxes."

Schoon, writing for 'The ENDS Report', says the genesis of the campaign was a lunch between Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre and Lord Lawson, founder of the GWPF.

Our research shows just how reliant the Mail has become on Lord Lawson's climate skeptic lobby group. Over the two months following the launch of the paper's 'green taxes' campaign in late May the Mail group's coverage of climate change dedicated a total of 2282 words of quotation, paraphrase and material referenced to the views of the GWPF.

That's more than five times the space dedicated to the views of the next most prominent source, Consumer Watch (417 words). The Confederation of British Industry merited 335 words, while climate secretary Chris Huhne secured 310.

DM GWPF graph

Word count attributable to source for all sources. Click to enlarge.

This count is taken from news reports and features, and excludes two prominent comment pieces penned for the Mail by GWPF director Dr Benny Peiser and the GWPF's founder and chair Lord Lawson. If these are included in the analysis, the GWPF comes out with around 13 times as much space as Consumer Focus, the next most quoted source.

The prominence given to the GWPF by the Mail is not fully reflected by this kind of analysis. Over the two month period the Mail published at least two front page splashes based almost entirely on GWPF numbers and quotes. This included the front page: " Hidden green tax in fuel bills: How £200 stealth charge is slipped on to your gas and electricity bill" on 9th June, when the paper carried three articles based on GWPF sources including a lengthy comment piece by Dr Peiser.

Obsesison

Scientists

Another notable feature of the Mail's coverage is that of 31 separate sources used in 28 articles examined, no individual scientists were quoted. This may be a quirk of the sample, but by our assessment only two sources, the Centre for Energy Policy and Technology at Imperial College and the International Programme on the State of the Oceans were mainly scientific sources, rather than political, business or lobby groups. The Mail dedicated a total of 182 words to these two sources in two articles, out of a total of 6517 sourced words across 26 news and feature pieces.

Investigative reporter and journalism lecturer, Paul Lashmar, talking about the prominence of the lobby group Taxpayers' Alliance in the press, told the Independent the rise of the group is linked to pressures on journalists:

"Journalists are often now so overstretched that a lot of work that used to be carried out in the newsroom is carried out by groups like the TPA. You don't see extensive research anymore whereas it used to be commonplace in Sunday papers to have exercises where, for example, you would ring around every MP for their opinions as the TPA has done numerous times.

"What you see now is journalists who are grateful for news which is almost perfectly packaged to go into the paper with a ready top line. In that sense, journalism is becoming very passive. It is a processor of other people's information rather than being engaged in actively seeking out and determining what the truth of a situation is in an energetic and inquisitive way."

And, where the angle pushed by groups like the GWPF coincides with the editorial line of a paper, this can create the conditions for a paper to become over-reliant on particular sources; a process described in detail in Flat Earth News by Nick Davies - the reporter whose phone hacking investigation is currently rocking the foundations of the British political and media class.

What we did:

We searched Mail Online and news database Factiva for all articles published over the two month period 18/5/11 to 17/7/11 - the two months of coverage following the launch of the Mail's 'green tax campaign' on 18/5/11.

We looked at articles containing the keywords "climate change" or "global warming", discarding duplicate articles and articles where climate change or global warming were mentioned, but were not a main theme of the story - for example, stories about Chris Huhne which were about his private life rather than his role as a minister.

This provided 28 articles, including two comment pieces. For these we looked at all the quoted sources from each article, taking a word count for direct quotes from those sources, and a word count for sections of the article which paraphrased the source or where the information was clearly referenced directly to the source.

The data is here.

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