Silent Denial

How the ABC is complicit in climate denial.

Imagine, for a moment, that there is a massive measles outbreak all around Australia.

Rural and regional areas in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia all suffer a huge surge in cases.

People die. Many lives are changed forever.

Imagine, now, that the ABC publishes these stories:

The Jones’ Terrible Loss; This Town Destroyed By Measles; How To Bring Down A Fever; Here Is A Map Showing Latest Outbreaks; Experts Warn The Worst Isn’t Over; Is This The Worst Outbreak Ever?; Graphic Footage From Inside Hospital; Our Gallant Doctors; Epidemics More Likely In Future; How To Be Ready For An Epidemic; Epidemic May Increase Insurance Costs; Covering The Epidemic – A Reporter’s Story; Epidemic Proves Boon For Coffin Makers. 

Two more.

PM Says Too Soon To Talk About Germs;

PM Says No Link Between Germs and Measles.

Those are the stories they publish. The two stories they don’t publish?

Germs Cause Measles And Many Other Diseases and Vaccinate Your Family Now.

Hard to imagine, isn’t it? Publishing all those stories about symptoms, about people, about the day-to-day details of fighting the epidemic, but never talking about the underlying cause, or that something can be done about it.

It wouldn’t just be lazy, it wouldn’t just be incompetent, it would be a gross dereliction. If it was done knowingly, if it was done deliberately then it would be worse still, but it’s hard to imagine they could do that, right?

Unfortunately, you only have to change a few details, and it’s no longer hypothetical.

For measles, read bushfire. For germs, read Climate Change. For vaccination, read emissions reduction.**

If you don’t believe me, read the over one hundred and forty articles the ABC has published on bushfires since November 9th.* See how many times you read about Climate Change and emissions reduction.

Very few people deny the reality of Climate Change today. Even Rupert Murdoch claims he accepts it, so this article is not about whether it exists, or whether it’s an existential threat to humankind. If you don’t believe that, stop reading now. You’re either stupid, or a troll, and there’s no point.

But the ABC’s silence is just another form of denial. It’s deliberate denial, because the ABC is repeatedly leaving out two of the famous “five Ws + H” of journalism—Who, What, When, Where, then WHY and HOW.

So bushfires are starting much earlier. Why? Fire seasons are overlapping. Why? Temperature records are getting broken more and more frequently. Why? We have record amounts of dry fuel. Why? Soil moisture is at record lows. Why? Droughts are more frequent. Why? We need more planes and equipment. Why? And so on.

It’s the most obvious question, and over and over again the ABC isn’t asking it, and by failing to ask it, can’t and don’t publish the answer: CLIMATE CHANGE.

Having failed to ask the “Why” question, the ABC now answers the “How” questions, not in terms of Climate Change, but in terms of temperature, or fuel load, or lightning, while the real answer to “How did this happen” is “because we’ve failed to halt climate change, and the way to reduce all of these problems is to tackle Climate Change and reduce emissions.”

A single, simple, and consistent answer to all the “Why”s and all the “How”s.

Climate Change. Reduce emissions.

But you’ll never see it in any ABC bushfire article. Silent denial.

Failing to take that last step and talk about the underlying cause is Silent Denial.

Talking about managing the symptoms and not the disease is Silent Denial.

Failing to point out that all of the symptoms have a common cause, and we must do something about that cause is #SilentDenial, and in my opinion it’s shameful dereliction.

Why the ABC?

It’s fair to ask at this point, why am I singling out the ABC? Why aren’t I analysing all the commercial mainstream media? Aren’t they just as bad?

The answer is simple. Commercial media are owned and ultimately directed by commercial interests, and in some cases we know their track record on Climate Change is abysmal. We can’t control them, and we would be naive to expect balance.

The ABC, on the other hand, is ours. It’s the place people go for emergencies—in fact that’s part of its Charter. It’s the source that people trust when they need to be sure. It’s supposed to be impartial, and balanced, and authoritative, because we own it and we rely on it.

To be clear, I’m not claiming that the ABC doesn’t publish stories on Climate Change. It does. Just not very many, and totally divorced from the hundreds of stories that all have climate change as the answer to “Why”.

That’s why the ABC. It’s the place we come to if we think the others are lying.

“Our ABC”, and our #RightToKnow that they tell us about. But they’re not telling us.

We trust them, and they’re abusing our trust.

Silent Denial

Scan through the ABC’s coverage of the recent—and continuing—bushfires, and you will find all of those “measles” headlines and stories, some of them almost word for word.** Scan the stories themselves and you will almost never find the words “climate change”, and you will certainly never see “emission reduction”.

It can’t be an accident that literally hundreds of times journalists have somehow stopped short of those important journalistic questions, and it’s not because nobody knows the answer.

Thousands upon thousands of dedicated, skilled scientists have been telling us for decades, not just what the problem is, but also what’s going to happen.

It is happening. The climate is changing, and the change is worsening all of those things. Bushfires, droughts, floods, crop heat death, sea-level rise, coral bleaching, erosion, storms, the list goes on and on, all with that same cause. Farmers know it, insurers know it, business knows it, the military knows it, everybody knows it apparently but politicians and the media.

It’s happening whether the Prime Minister likes it or not, and it’s not our national broadcaster’s responsibility to believe what he says, or do what he says. It’s their responsibility to seek the truth and publish it.

In my opinion they’re failing miserably, but they’re failing silently.

That may make it less obvious, but it doesn’t make them any less culpable.

Below is a graphical representation of the problem.

If the ABC were doing their job we would be seeing articles covering all of the pyramid.  More particularly, we would be seeing articles in proportion to the importance of the topics; more articles about the core, fundamental issues at the base, and fewer articles at the top.

The most important, and fundamental issues are the bottom two, but they are the ones that are never mentioned in the context of bushfires, or floods, or any other of the problems that are worsened by climate change.  They are the answer to the “Why” question—why more frequent, why more severe, why earlier, why longer, why more intense—but we’re not seeing them.

Instead, all of the stories congregate around the upper layers, principally the top two, furthest away from the critical, most important topics. Don’t believe me? Go and read the headlines and stories for yourself. Look for climate change and emission reduction in bushfire stories. Look for journalists asking “Why” and answering it. Look for journalists asking “How” and giving the real answer. Look for ABC analysis connecting climate change and bushfires in any bushfire story – not other people’s quotes, but ABC written material.

You won’t find it. Silent denial.


maslows hierarchy of bushfire stories

* These are just a few of the over 140 bushfire stories published by the ABC since November 9. You’ll find each of the “measles” headlines here, in the same order, with one exception. You’ll also find the PM’s statements, and a couple of other politicians.

Yeppoon pensioners to salvage lychee trees after bushfire turns superannuation plans to ashes The Jones’ Terrible Loss;

NSW bushfires: Inside the community that’s now a ghost town after blazes ripped out its heart This Town Destroyed By Measles; 

How to manage bushfire smoke health risks How To Bring Down A Fever; 

SA bushfires mapped: What happened where  Here Is A Map Showing Latest Outbreaks;

Catastrophic fire danger for South Australia on Wednesday as another cold front moves through  Experts Warn The Worst Isn’t Over; 

Were Queensland fire danger indices historically high for early September? Is This The Worst Outbreak Ever?; 

Queensland’s bushfire devastation captured in pictures  Graphic Footage From Inside Hospital; 

Queensland bushfire emergency volunteers work tirelessly to help keep crews going  Our Gallant Doctors; 

Weather forecast fuels Sydney fire fears, RFS warns of ‘catastrophic’ danger for the first time ever  Epidemics More Likely In Future; 

Are Victorians living on the fringes of our cities prepared for the bushfire season? How To Be Ready For An Epidemic; 

Bushfire season has arrived. Here’s what you need to know about insurance Epidemic May Increase Insurance Costs; 

A reporter’s reflection on covering the bushfires in NSW and Queensland Covering The Epidemic – A Reporter’s Story;

Oh, and the last headline? Not a bushfire one, it’s actually about climate change.

Meet the farmers embracing climate change and thriving Epidemic Proves Boon For Coffin Makers

Non-ABC stories about the PM’s comments.

More ABC headlines, just a tiny sample:

Temperature records smashed across Perth and regional WA during weekend heatwave

Carol Booth plays her harp to calm horses at a bushfire animal evacuation centre.

Are bigger water bombers the answer to Australia’s bushfire woes?

Queensland volunteer firefighters, landholders call for reduction in red tape to tackle bushfires on frontline

This is how most bushfires in Australia start, and how we know

See how the winds are affecting bushfire conditions around the country

Why do some people decide to stay at home during bushfire emergencies?

A cold front is sweeping across New South Wales — so how will it impact fire conditions?

Queensland fire emergency sparks quick change to couple’s dream Noosa wedding weekend

Neighbour says woman who died in Johns River as ‘quality person’Duration: 3 minutes 26 seconds3m 26sWatchDuration: 3 minutes 26 seconds3m 26s

The Williams’ property at CooroibahDuration: 20 seconds20sWatchDuration: 20 seconds20s

Barnaby Joyce says NSW bushfire victims ‘most likely’ voted for the Greens

Inner-city raving lunatics: Michael McCormack on The Greens and climate changeDuration: 7 minutes 4 seconds7m WatchDuration: 7 minutes 4 seconds7m


**  Yes, I understand that arguing by analogy is suspect. I’m not doing that. Nor am I saying that there is an exact parallel between germs and measles, and climate change and bushfires. Germs cause measles, whereas climate change “only” makes bushfires worse. The point here remains that climate change is the underlying causal factor, either for making these things worse, or—in the case of sea-level rise—directly responsible. What’s being ignored is precisely the fact that these things are getting worse, they are continuing to get worse, and we know the reason why and can do something about it. Not talking about that underlying reason and only talking about the symptoms is the problem, and in that sense, while the analogy is exact, the argument doesn’t hinge on it being correct. The argument is about failing to talk about the why, about climate change. It’s about silent denial, and that’s indisputable on the facts.

2 thoughts on “Silent Denial

  1. Hi Peter, I have been counting mentions of climate change on the ABC News site for 47 weeks since 10/1/19. I count the number of articles with it mentioned and I count the number of articles about the effects or causes of climate change where it is not mentioned. Rarely does the weeks daily average crack 2 . When you consider that some of the mentions are people scoffing at the climate science it is pathetic.

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