Ben Pile is a researcher who works with me and my colleagues on energy issues. He was interested by my recent blog on the politics of shale gas, and came up with his own very interesting aperçu on the media coverage of the issue. I thought I should share it with you.
He has been trying to compare the reaction of the media — and the BBC in particular — to the shale gas and wind farm campaigns respectively.
The BBC national coverage of anti-wind campaigns, he notes, has been all but silent, and fails to address the concerns of the campaigners themselves. BBC local coverage reports the protests more accurately and fairly. It seems clear that a few hundred anti-fracking protesters from around the country can attract the attention of the national media, simply by making a very visual image — dressing up, banging drums, causing widespread disruption, getting arrested and so on. On the other hand, wind farm campaigners, almost to a man, are disinclined to cause inconvenience to others, much less break the law. Who would film a polite protest, made by articulate, normal people, who use lawful processes to pursue their aims?
Climate sceptics have never shut down an airport, road, train line, power station, or lawful business. Yet the BBC presents the hysterical opposition to fracking as an important and reasonable position, but opposition to wind farms as ignorant and prejudiced Nimbyism.
The contrast is stark. In fact, the wind farm campaigners, in spite of their politeness, are further from the government’s policies than the hippies and anarchists. In addition, the BBC and other media are broadly sympathetic to the idea of fracking being “controversial”, whereas they regard climate change and wind farms as beyond discussion. The BBC’s coverage confuses loudness of protest with numbers of protesters, as though the events at Balcombe represented wider public opinion.
Ben went to the anti-fracking protest at Westminster in December to take pictures and video (see above). The protesters numbered no more than 300. In a city of 8.1 million people on a Saturday, the Green Party and its allies could muster just dozens. No doubt many of the same people have been at Balcombe in Sussex.
This should remind people of the road protests in the 1990s, when just a few individuals held up the progress of vital road infrastructure. The nascent green movement were portrayed as heroes by much of the media, and courted by subsequent governments, who abandoned road-building projects.
In summary, it might be worth reflecting on how small these protest movements are, how they don’t speak for the public at all, and how the media and politicians from the old parties have encouraged, or been beaten by them.
There is perhaps a read-across here to the hunting debate. While opinion polls on hunting tend to be ambiguous, the fact remains that the animal rights brigade struggle to get a few hundred onto the streets, whereas the Countryside Alliance can muster half a million (I was there). I believe that on both issues, down-to-earth common sense hugely outweighs the bluster of the antis.