On the fracking of Scotland, is the wider Yes movement solid and committed or getting a bit fractured?
Photo: Gasland , http://www.gaslandthemovie.com Image: Newsnet.scot
Only days after the Referendum 2014 result came limping sadly in, my Facebook pages began to fill with shared links to stories on the dangers to public health of fracking. Many, I noted were shared by the same strong women organisers of Yes events I had met at the time. It seemed a heart-warming flowering of political engagement across a range of issues including TTIP and land reform. Like the campaign for independence, these were campaigns to restore power, from elites and corporations, to communities. I spoke in late 2014 and early 2015 to crowds outside the Ineos plant in Grangemouth about the mainstream media silence on the topic. A report is still available at:
A recent flurry of mainstream media reports supporting fracking and condemning the Scottish government’s hesitation has given me cause to be anxious after some time thinking that these same protestors had seen the industry off.
In the Herald, on the 16th and 17th September 2016, we had:
There were no positive reports to balance these. In the Scotsman, in September 2016, there were five pieces in favour and none against fracking. In the months before, there were more in favour but, admittedly a few against it. I could find no reports on fracking, at all, in the Daily Record. The Scottish Sun and the Scottish Daily Mail had several reports and the overall balance was fair. The MSM can, of course, justify presenting both sides over a period of time but the balance has been pretty skewed in favour of the industry.
I haven’t surveyed TV broadcast news of this topic recently but my impression is again of a degree of balance which editors will be able to justify. Balance is of course a good thing in many cases such as, say, the rights of walkers versus the rights of motorists or of cyclists, in urban areas but in other cases it’s potentially damaging. On topics such as tobacco or heroin or asbestos, the idea of balanced news seems, correctlly, ludicrous. Reading this quote below, does balance on the reporting of fracking seem appropriate?
This is from HM Chief Scientific Advisor’s Annual Report of 28th November 2014. Despite this warning from the highest office in UK science, BBC Scotland’s ‘The War Over Fracking’ appeared at 7.30pm on the 29th April, 2015, well-balanced and missing much in the process of becoming so. Here’s a quote from my critique of the programme (more later):
‘If I didn’t know anything about fracking, it would probably have seemed to be a fair, balanced piece of work. Miller comes across as genuine sort of guy who is trying his best to be fair. I suspect he was and it’s a very, very bad thing for democracy if he succeeded in persuading viewers of that. If the report had been more clearly in favour of business interests or if it had concentrated on the more ‘revolting’ elements in the anti-fracking movement (me included), then viewers would probably have seen through it. The report was balanced and allowed the anti-fracking movement to be presented as mature, local and essentially decent folk, just like us. If the topic had been conflict between dog-walkers, horse-riders and off-road cyclists over access to the countryside, the approach would have been correct.’
What my criticism was saying is that Miller’s respectful and balanced approach was the most effective form of propaganda the fracking industry could have hoped for. This made it worse for the environment and for the rest of us than an obviously pro-industry piece which we would all have seen through.
In some ways, this small surge of support for the fracking industry was to be expected but what caught me off guard was the presence of reports in the Yes-supporting and home of many of my own reports, Newsnet.scot. As far as I can see, Wings, Bella and Indyref2 seem immune to this strain. In 2016, we’ve seen so far:
‘Fracking: the engineer’s case for a cautious Scottish go-ahead’
‘Fracking ‘ban’: A firm stand against the unacceptable, or gesture politics?’
‘Podcast: An economist’s view of oil, fracking, the Scottish economy and Europe’
Here’s a bit from the second piece:
Fracking ‘ban’: A firm stand against the unacceptable, or gesture politics?
Commentary by Derek Bateman
It’s an astonishingly ill-informed piece from a usually well-informed writer. He even writes:
I don’t like fracking and strongly suspect it is the wrong way for Scotland to go. But I don’t know if that’s correct because I haven’t seen anything yet except one-sided propaganda from groups who hijacked the issue when it was barely in the public domain and mounted a successful demonisation campaign. The hair-raising Project Fear effort started at a time when I doubt if 99.9 per cent of the British public had even heard of fracking let alone understood what it was.
The many who do know quite a bit about fracking can only be both amazed and offended by this mixture of ignorance and contempt.
To be fair, there were four pieces, including my own attack on the engineer, offering the anti-fracking perspective. Again, journalistic professionalism and the balance dogma will be the answer to complaint but I remind you, again, of the dangers inherent in simple balance on topics such as fracking.
I responded (one of only two comments) to the podcast on the 4th June 2016, with this:
Mike, Derek, we don’t need to work out whether or not fracking will or will not become economically viable because we already know from US research based on more than ten years of pollution now, that it’s not, in the slightest, viable on health grounds!
See this shocking PBS (credible) documentary or for a quick scan, my last NN piece on the same frackin thing:
Neither Professor of Economics, Mike Danson nor Newsnet.scot owner, Derek Bateman did me or us the courtesy of a reply.
Coincidentally, Newsnet.scot had refused to publish the critique (stinging?) I had written in 2015, attacking BBC Scotland’s then Environment Correspondent, David Miller’s apologetic report on fracking. The report can be seen still at:
It’s a report, full of evidence and if I may be so immodest, utterly demolishing the case for fracking, which took me some time and effort to write. I was pretty disappointed that Newsnet.scot wouldn’t touch it.
Judging by the MSM support and the lack of fire in the belly (nice metaphor?) of some in the SNP, is it time Scotland’s alternative media got a bit more lively on this? There’s been little on the topic in Scotland’s alternative media since a lot of very good stuff in 2015. Fracking is not a sideshow but one of the best examples of our democratic deficit and thus one of the best pieces of evidence that we need full autonomy.