Mobile navigation


Inconvenient truth: the press and climate change

The British press often comes in for criticism over its reporting of climate change. Former tabloid editor Ted Young says mainstream media can sometimes be the victim of fake news.

By Ted Young

Inconvenient truth: the press and climate change

'It's a mainstream media conspiracy.'

'Climate change should be on the front page every day, the top of every news agenda. They are just ignoring the crisis facing the world today.'

These are views I hear, time and again, and sometimes I've really had to take them on the nose.

Stepping gingerly around a stinking pile of manure dumped by Extinction Rebellion protesters outside my newspaper office in High Street Kensington a couple of years ago, I was, along with fellow journalists, the target of their ire. Their banner proclaimed, 'Free the Press'.

"Sometimes I've really had to take them on the nose." Photograph: Zoe Broughton.

This seemed a little ironic considering climate change protesters just a year before had blockaded our print works to prevent papers getting out to the British public.

But I've been a journalist for 40 years. Bankers had a go when the Press dared to question their massive bonuses after the credit crunch. Politicians moaned when their vast expenses claims (one for a duck house) were exposed and, more recently, when the utter hypocrisy of those in power was laid bare by the Downing Street lockdown parties. So it's only natural the press should take aim at double standards when it comes to climate change.


It was a bit rich when Prince Harry attended the Google Camp in Sicily back in 2019 after flying in by private jet to preach to us all, barefoot on a beach, about saving the planet. He was in good company as more than 100 other non-commercial flights flew in to attend the event.

Even King Charles, a frontrunner in raising the alarm about climate change, has come under fire for arranging for four cabinet ministers to fly up to see him for a Net Zero meeting in Scotland. Has anyone told His Majesty about Zoom?

Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak appears barely able to go to the shops without taking a helicopter. But it's still 'damn the mainstream media'. We are rude enough to prick the bubble, to call out hypocrisy.

At Metro newspaper, when I was editor, we had the temerity to do it again in 2021 when we pointed out that billionaires Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos had been partying on their gas-guzzling superyachts in the run-up to COP26.


Mr Gates landed in Glasgow after 'chilling' on his rental gin palace that pumps out an estimated 7,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year. He arranged a fleet of helicopters to ferry guests from his yacht to his 66th birthday bash on the Turkish coast. Mr Bezos took a 120-mile round trip from his £290million floating mansion to the Gates party before jetting 2,000 miles to COP26 on his £48million Gulf Stream jet. Some 400 of the world's elite flew private to Glasgow.

So why does this matter? It matters because to the ordinary punter, the commuter heading to work just making ends meet, it seems a little much to be lectured on 'doing your bit for the planet' and 'don't fly for your holidays' as the world's elite do the very opposite.

As my headline at Metro put it: The Height Of HyCOPrisy.

And it matters to me as a parent and grandparent who cares very deeply about climate change.

I believe the planet IS facing an existential crisis.


Why else did Metro, Britain's biggest tabloid, carry the front page headline ‘Code Red For Humanity’ in August 2021 as we reported the Doomsday UN report on global warming? That is far from burying bad news.

And when the US President, leader of the Western World, didn't turn up for the G7 Climate Change conference in 2019, our banner headline screamed ‘What Planet Is Trump On?’ It was a wipeout front page again for us in April 2021 with the headline ‘… The Planet's had enough hot air, it's… Time To Step Up’. This was President Biden's message, delivered virtually (with minimal carbon footprint) because of Covid.

Crikey, so the press DOES report the climate crisis. I'm not saying by any means that the mainstream media is perfect. It riles me to see 'so much for global warming' headlines as soon as the temperatures plunge or there is an inch of snow.

But the British press has also done great work. The huge success of the Daily Mail's 'Turn the tide on plastic' campaign should not be underestimated. At Metro, we always called out double standards. Metro readers are a very mixed bunch, a good cross-section of Britain's workforce.

Many supported the climate change protests, many did not. But if they are on the Docklands Light Railway trying to get to work and a climate change activist glues themselves to their carriage, they are not amused. These are commuters who are not driving in, causing minimal damage to the planet but who are targeted because they are an easy way to get publicity. Similarly, if an ambulance is trying to get to hospital but is blocked by Just Stop Oil protesters, there is real anger against people who believe they are right and everyone else is wrong.


The press is right to question everything. What is the cost of shifting from using fossil fuel to electricity? Or indeed the cost of not doing this in the long term.

Where does the iron come from? Where does the copper come from? Vast quantities are needed to make the change from fossil fuel. What is the damage mining does to the local environment? What is the carbon footprint?

What is the real cost of wind turbines? What harm do they cause to bird life and wildlife in general? Nothing compared with farming, it is argued. But are they ruining our countryside? Should they just be built offshore?

Electric cars. How green are they? Volvo has said the emissions from the production of electric cars are far higher than a petrol equivalent. Is this true? And what about the carbon cost of scrapping cars? These are the complex questions facing decision-makers. A real paradox.

Because you ask these questions does not mean you are a swivel-eyed reactionary. In the Twittersphere (now X-sphere), just putting your head above the parapet and saying anything against the perceived wisdom is becoming more risky than an owl taking on a turbine blade.


Channel 4 boss Alex Mahon recently said Generation Z can't work alongside people with different views and don't have the skills to debate post-pandemic. That may be harsh but it does appear we are going down a road where people only listen to the opinions of those with whom they agree.

Get it wrong in the press and the public can complain to the Independent Press Standards Organisation. If it’s serious enough, a correction can appear on the front page or on a newspaper website’s home page. Get it wrong on social media and nobody gives a fig.

Meanwhile, there are spats in the hallowed halls of academia over whether prestigious science journal Nature selects climate papers that 'support certain pre-approved narratives'. That is the charge that is being made by Patrick T Brown at John Hopkins University. Nature has hit back and accused the lecturer of 'poor research practices'.

It just goes to show that there is a war for hearts and minds across all levels of media. And that war is being fought now in the UK ahead of the 2024 General Election. Why is Prime Minister Rishi Sunak retreating on the Government's Net Zero targets?


Is that the power of the press or is it because households simply can't afford the fast-paced move to green and Rishi wants their votes? I suspect it's the latter.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan's Ulez (ultra low emission zones) tax on drivers of older cars may well have lost his Labour party the by-election in Boris Johnson's old parliamentary seat in Uxbridge.

It's one thing calling for a greener planet and another thing paying for it. That is why honest debate and freedom of speech is so vital to get the public to embrace the green message. Because only then will readers and viewers be persuaded that they really can change the world.

Shouting at people on X and or lecturing them after flying in on your private jet to tell them only you know the answers will simply add fuel to the fire. And the planet will continue to burn.

This chapter was taken from the new book, ‘Toxic News? Covering Climate Change’, edited by John Mair, John Ryley and Andrew Beck, published by Bite-Sized Books and available from Amazon in paperback, Kindle and eBook formats.