Case Number: 2642

Council Meeting: JANUARY 2018

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of

The Complaint

Tony Climie alleges that over many years the reporting by the New Zealand Herald of what is commonly known as the climate change debate has lacked balance.He earlier complained about a specific article, but that complaint was withdrawn.

Mr Climie takes the view that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) ignores the role of natural climate change.It is his view that the science relating to AGW is wrong, and what is occurring at the present time is no more than what has happened to the earth’s climate over many millennia.

In his very lengthy complaint, he presents his scientific reasoning as to why AGW is incorrect.He also lists references to an inordinate number of articles. He further says the reporting is unbalanced, and has been for many years, because in the news media (and in relation to this complaint, the New Zealand Herald) there is a preponderance of reporting of the AGW view. He also complains specifically about a September article.

The Response

In his response to the complaint, the senior newsroom editor for the Herald, David Rowe, states that the reason the majority of the articles published broadly support the notion that human emissions contribute to climate change is a reflection of the views of the scientists and experts covered in the articles by the Herald’s own staff and trusted syndicators.He pointed out that they also publish views that challenge the idea of “human-made” climate change.

The Decision

The Council has said on numerous occasions that it is not its role, or within its expertise, to determine complex scientific questions.

As an aside, we would note that many of the articles that Mr Climie complains of are outside the Council’s timelines.We do not take that point in this instance because of the overall nature of his complaint.

The Council has also said on a number of occasions that where there is a well-established debate (such as fluoridation, the effect of cellphone signals, and climate change, amongst others), it is unnecessary for the publication to provide balance in each article.[1]This is because the debate is of such a nature that readers will be well aware of it, and the diametrically opposed, entrenched views of the protagonists.

Mr Climie’s point is somewhat different in that he maintains that more articles support the AGW approach than the approach he believes in; which is that what is occurring in the present reflects no more than climate changes over many millions of years experienced on earth.

We do not consider there is any lack of balance by this publication.As we have noted, it is not for the Council to determine the scientific dispute — although it is pertinent to note that the substantially greater weight of scientific evidence appears to support AGW, and the view different from Mr Climie’s. Accepting that balance is not required in individual articles in the types of categories we have just described what is reasonable to create balance over a long period of time? We do not agree with the approach contended for by the claimant. What the Herald and other publications need to ensure is that readers are properly informed and made aware of both sides of the debate. This does not require that there be the same, or approximately the same, number of articles presenting the differing views. Such an arithmetic approach is not helpful. Overall, we consider theHerald has properly reported both sides of this debate and readers would be well aware, and well informed, of the differing arguments.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Hank Schouten, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.

John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.

[1] Case 2559 —Right To Life NZ Inc against The Press; Case 2370 — Simon Clark againstStuff; Case 2380 — Jan Rivers against Stuff. (There are many more examples on the Council’s website0.