Shrinking newsroom budgets, fear of getting a “high-stakes issue” wrong, and a deep rooted—and irresponsible—reluctance to stand up to Big Oil all contributed to Canada’s mainstream media being little more than a megaphone for the interests of Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) when it released its fossil production projections for 2018 in June, writes The Narwhal.
When CAPP shared its prediction of a “60% increase in oil sands production by 2035” with the world, the CBC, Canadian Press, and the Globe and Mail “covered the report, but not a single one of them took even a sentence or two to remind readers that CAPP’s projections assume a future reality of a fried planet,” Briarpatch Publisher David Gray-Donald writes in a guest post. [Nor that CAPP has often had to correct its overheated projections downward over the years—Ed.]
Asked to explain the omission, veteran Globe and Mail energy reporter Shawn McCarthy put it down to word count. “If I had had more space, I could have spent some time describing the difference between industry expectations of continued growth — whether based on [International Energy Agency] scenarios or the broad assumption about a growing middle class in emerging markets like India and China — and contrasted that with the carbon imperative,” he told Gray-Donald. That McCarthy did not have room to map out the full story might have had something to do with the fact that his employer recently “downsized its paper publication,” The Narwhal adds.
The coverage gap may also reflect journalists’ fear of getting the details of a complex, highly charged issue wrong. “The stories are tough and require a lot of extra of extra research to get it right,” said University of Regina journalism professor Patricia Elliott.
Here, again, the current financial woes of traditional journalism serve the fortunes of the oilpatch, as “poor staffing of newsrooms makes it especially difficult to do this kind of reporting,” Elliott said.
But “if I were an editor,” she added, “I would assign a climate beat, like The Guardian has done, and have business reporters take workshops on covering climate change as a business story, including industry accountability. The economic implications of Earth’s changing climate are major, and there’s just not enough reporting work that holds power to account when disasters strike.”
Gray-Donald says the very pervasiveness of media reluctance to mention climate change and Big Oil in the same sentence suggests that Canadian journalists—and politicians—remain captive to “the standard narrative of economic prosperity based on resource sector jobs.” The power of that narrative, said Wilfrid Laurier University geographer Simon Dalby, “forecloses serious political discussion of alternative economic strategies and the huge injustices that resource extraction involves.”
The Narwhal notes that The Canadian Press did produce “a piece of longer coverage” on the CAPP 2018 oil outlook that included one comment by Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner Keith Stewart: “The harsh truth [oil companies] need to face is that in 2035 we won’t be buying what they are selling, and that’s a good thing if we want our kids to inherit a liveable planet.”
“But that’s as far as the topic was explored,” Gray-Donald states.