DOUGLAS CAMPBELL AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 2881

Council Meeting: MARCH 2020

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Columnists
Comment and Fact
Offensive Language

Overview

The Publication

1. This complaint concerns a New Zealand Herald online article, which is a video featuring Mike Hosking, published as a “Mike’s Minute” video on 24 January 2020.

2. The video features a statement of some minutes in length, discussing reactions to climate change, in particular how those reactions relate to air travel.

3. At the start of the statement Mr Hosking states in relation to reactions to climate change, that there is obsession overcoming rational thought, followed by an observation that “This is not to say that climate change isn’t real”.He goes on to talk about efforts to mitigate climate change, and their effectiveness.He observes that we do not know really what to do about climate change.

4. He talks about the excitement of a non-stop commercial jet flight from Sydney to London, contrasting this successful achievement with the criticisms of air travel, aimed at making it “ugly”.He says those who want to stop air travel are in effect “nutty”, and effectively asserts that they are going much too far in their efforts.He queries as to how stopping or reducing air travel would work.He also queries why such zealots should be given airtime and space in papers.

5. In general terms his language is strongly critical, verging on the derisory, of those who are seeking to curtail air travel.

The Complaint

6. The Complaint accepts that this was an opinion piece, but states that it fails to meet the principle relating to opinion pieces that “requirements for a foundation of fact pertain”.It is complained that the assertion that we do not know what to do about climate change, and that the cutting of the use of fossil fuels is a doubtful remedy, are wrong.

7. It is said that publication should not have been permitted.There is in fact a “vast body of scientific research” on this as summarised in the most recent IPCC assessment report.The science is clear the greenhouse emissions must be reduced.Any New Zealand climatologist would agree with this.Mr Hosking may have his opinion, but theNZ Herald should not publish it.

8. The general thrust of the complaint is that Mr Hosking was being irresponsible and wrong in his efforts to denigrate those seeking to cut emissions by reducing air travel.

The Response

9. The NZ Herald in its response agrees that there is a general consensus about the Earth’s warming in the scientific community, but that there remain many debates about the causes of this, the effects of it, and how it should be mitigated.There is an ongoing debate about this.

10. The response points out that Mr Hosking does not reject the idea of reducing fossil consumption, but is setting out his opinion.He is giving his opinion that those shaming those who fly go too far and are zealots, and he is entitled to do so.The NZ Herald has published an article saying that those who allow climate denial views to be published are totally irresponsible.Balance requires the publication of the competing views.

The Decision

Our Discussion

11. An opinion piece is given latitude in the Media Council’s principles.Balance is not essential.However, the opinion piece must not put forward false facts.

12. Thus, if Mr Hosking plainly denied a certain fact, for instance that fossil fuels caused pollution, its publication could be criticised. However, this is not the theme of this article.Mr Hosking does not deny the existence of climate change, or the contribution of using fossil fuels.We do not agree that he denies the contribution of fossil fuels to climate change.Rather, he says that we don’t really know what to do about climate change.He is critical of extreme reaction to climate change particularly proposals to ban or severely curtail air travel. The overall thrust of Mr Hosking’s video is not to put forward facts, but to give his reaction to the responses to climate change, in particular the call to curtail air travel.

13. His language is strong, saying that the obsession with climate change is taking over rational thought.He uses words like zealot and obsession, and the implication that some extremists in other areas have a mental health issue.He raises the question of what steps could be taken, and says “the inmates are now taking over the facility”. He says we must push back against this or “We will be going camping instead of going to Bali” and that the “Koru Club will be an exhibit in Te Papa”.

14. This is vigorous and confrontational language, but is not untypical of this sort of opinion piece.The underlying message is not to deny climate change, but to attack what he sees as extreme reactions to climate change.

15. We can see no basis for stopping debate on what are the appropriate reactions to climate change.The video does not put forward a false fact when it is stated that the curtailing of air travel by prohibitions or taxes is wrong.The effect of the video is that those who seek to significantly curtail air travel are ignoring the benefits of such travel to the public, and the adverse consequences to the public that would follow such a ban.

16. We accept that the language used by Mr Hosking is extreme and confrontational, and could be regarded as facile and insulting by a scientist seriously engaged in combating the effects of global warming.However, the video in vigorously contesting the proposal to limit or stop air travel as a means to reduce climate change, is a classic opinion piece, and contains no erroneous factual assertions.

Result

17. The complaint is not upheld.

Media Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher, Rosemary Barraclough, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Jonathan MacKenzie, Marie Shroff, Pravina Singh and Tim Watkin.

Hank Schouten stood down to maintain the public member majority.

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