1 Comment

When I was reporting for the Herald on convoluted and long-running stories like the dismantling of Telecom’s monopoly on the phone and internet market, I felt obliged to cover each major phase of the story through to completion.

It seems the same isn’t true of the New Zealand media in general when it comes to the “Climategate” controversy involving the emails leaked from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit.

The man at the centre of climategate, UAE’s Dr Phil Jones, was last week cleared by an independent inquiry into the affair along with colleagues the emails showed he was corresponding with.

That followed an earlier report issued by the UK Parliament’s Science and Technology Select Committee which came to a similar conclusion when examining the conduct of the scientists – there was no impropriety. The UEA report went further because it looked into the actual science mentioned in the emails.

While Climategate received extensive New Zealand-generated coverage when the story broke last November and in January and February as “glaciergate” put the heat on the IPCC, there was virtually no coverage of the outcome of the inquiry’s publication last week penned by New Zealand journalists. Scrap that, as far as I can tell there was NO coverage of it penned by New Zealand journalists. I’m not so sure about broadcast media, but I looked hard to find any and came up empty-handed.

Using our Meltwater media tracking service, I was able to go back and look at what the media produced on the day the inquiry published its report and in the following days up to today. Coverage of the announcement amounted to a handful of wire stories, mainly reprints of an Independent story. Not a single columnist examined the report as far as I can tell, despite one in February suggesting the media should “let slip the dogs of war” on these lying scientists and expose the AGW scam for what it is. As Jim Hopkins wrote in the Herald, frustrated at what he saw as a lack of penetrating journalism on Climategate:

…back in the real world, there is only silence; a cruel weapon in private and even more inexplicable in public, particularly when it is the fourth estate’s response to an extraordinary story.

So it was surprising then that the denouement of this “extraordinary story” was completely ignored by Hopkins who chose to devote his column last Friday not to Climategate and the UEA inquiry, but to… Winston Peters.

It is not that he didn’t have time to write it – the news broke in the UK on Wednesday. It is not that there was no local angle – New Zealand scientists had plenty to say on the outcome of the inquiry. So what was it then? Eyjafjallajokull? Maybe. But I think what’s really behind it is the fickleness of the New Zealand media, the speed with which it loses interest in stories, especially when there are no rounds people to see the story through to its conclusion the way I did as I waded through all those Commerce Commission determinations about Telecom. No one “owns” the story, so no one cares about what was written before and that readers are owed a concluding story, a final act.

Maybe the outcome of the Climategate investigations (there is one more inquiry to be completed, by a panel headed by Sir Muir Russel), will get some scrutiny by New Zealand media tomorrow night in the Media7 special on the media and climate change. Sir Peter Gluckman talks to Russell Brown on the issue and Brown will patch in The Guardian’s environment editor James Randerson, who oversaw extensive coverage of Climategate – from beginning to end. It should make for interesting viewing.