June 20, 2011
The BBC website announced today (20 June 2011) a “shocking decline” in the state of the oceans. With lines like: “The time to protect the blue heart of our planet is now” or that we are ‘heading for a sixth mass extinction event’, my eyebrows got raised by the source of the shock factor that the BBC was reporting as fact.
The BBC correspondent, Richard Black, based the entirety of his article on a report by a hitherto unknown organisation known as IPSO. He did not check other organisations, investigate IPSO or get other views from other stakeholders. Was Mr Black naive, too pressed for time or agenda driven? One thing is for sure, the BBC surely is not responsible in this type of shock reporting based solely on NGO activist sources. This is sadly becoming routine for the BBC (they seem to subcontract much of their environmental reporting to Greenpeace). I am slowly considering the BBC more as an environmental – political activist organisation than a credible news source.
So what is IPSO and how did they manage to score a BBC exclusive? I am afraid IPSO smells a little like another NGO front group that presents itself as international and then worms its way into UN bodies where they can better spread their influence. IPSO stands for the International Programme on the State of the Oceans – a name which sounds like a UN body, but is a UK registered NGO. They produced a report which the BBC claims will be presented to the UN at a conference later this week (sounds influential, maybe I’ll present my blog to the UN later this week as well!). At the bottom of each page on a glossy gloom report, they have a catchy footer byline: IPSO: run by scientists for the world. Into their ocean awareness raising, they weave other campaigns (climate, overfishing, plastics) – they will be busy.
Something over fishy!
This seemed all too Greenpeacish for me, so it got me wondering: who works for IPSO? Their well-produced website says precious little about who funds them, who are all of these scientists for the world. They describe themselves as a “unique consortium of scientists and other Ocean experts — including those from the legal, communications and political arenas”. All of the academic work and blogs seem to flow through Professor Alex Rogers, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Zoology in London. Only his name and that of Mirella von Lindenfels appear on the website. It didn’t take too long to learn that Mirella von Lindenfels was once the media head for Greenpeace … ouch! (Note to BBC journalist, Richard Black: Google is a search engine that can provide some useful research information for your articles). Now I understand how their website can claim: Everything that IPSO does, it does to preserve our Ocean so that life as we know it can continue. I think I read that on a Greenpeace site (or was it the BBC?).
This is just the reality we are in today. Environmental lobbyists are far better than other groups at communications and government influencing, coordinating their networks to create an air of authority that sets agendas and assumes a commonality that needs no further scrutiny. The UN gets duped by these front-group activists all of the time (last week we learnt that a Greenpeace director was the lead author in an IPCC report on renewables). But shouldn’t journalists be a little more street smart and be able to sniff out facts from fantasy? Unless of course environmental activists have wormed their way into the BBC editorial staff as well …
In the week after the BBC had to apologise to Primark for lying in their Panorama report, shouldn’t BBC editors give a stronger credibility sniff to the sources of their shock journalism? Otherwise their own credibility and integrity again becomes the story.
Postscript: within hours, the Black article was re-tweeted or posted on Facebook more than 9000 times. This is textbook activist campaigning that I teach in my lobbying lectures – plant an article in a major news source, use your network to spread it virally, and voila, instant news. Tomorrow, we can expect other news organisations to be pressured to pick up the BBC report and widen the network to gain momentum all the way to the UN meeting. It does not matter if there is any factual basis at all to the information – an agenda is generated and diffused and the BBC has become the patsy.David Zaruk