Peter Williams: Integrity in broadcasting

Opinion 09/05/2019

By Peter Williams, Magic Mornings host.

There was one piece on the TV coverage of this story last night that could have been just careless but whatever the reason, there it was again.

The use of a highly subjective and emotional image used to reinforce the notion of climate change or global warming and that humanity is doing terrible things to the environment and the wildlife in it.

It was the video of the emaciated polar bear on a barren landscape with no snow or ice, taken in the northern summer of 2017 in August of that year by a biologist from the organisation Sea Legacy.

It was first put on line 4 months later in the winter of 2017 with the caption to the effect of this is what climate change looks like; this is the face of climate change.

It was emotive, it tugged at the heart strings. It was seen by 2.5 billion on National Geographic’s website.

Except it was a lie.

It was taken in the summer when snow is melted. It was published in December when the snow had returned. The polar bear was not emaciated through a lack of food because no other polar bears were suffering the same way.

The local Innuit tribe were furious because they were certain the polar bear was sick, most likely with a cancer that afflicts many polar bears.

So the photo and the video was manipulation of the truth.

Committed by activists and it has been accepted as such ever since.

The reality is that, according to the latest published figures from the World Wildlife Foundation, the polar bear population is at worst, stable.

There are 19 known sub-populations or groups of polar bears across the Arctic; one is declining, two are increasing, seven are stable and there is not enough data available for the other nine groups.

There are between 21 and 30,000 polar bears and the fact that a discredited vision taken two and a half years ago is still being used on New Zealand television in 2019 reflects very poorly onthe people who decided to include it.

To use an image of a sick and skinny polar bear on a story about climate change is audience manipulation of the worst sort

It’s as bad as the seemingly endless pictures trotted out by the BBC especially of great swathes of ice crashing into the sea as glaciers melt, and the inference is that this is the result of man made climate change.

That of course is complete rubbish.

It is yet more emotive and untrue audience manipulation.

I’ve been up Glacier Bay in southern Alaska. I’ve got some vision on my iphone of the tidewater glaciers calving, as the process is known.

Yes it’s going on, yes the ice is melting, yes the glacier is retreating. But guess what. Do you know when it started?

In 1791, an explorer found glaciers all the way to the sea.

This was towards the end of what we call the little ice age. That’s when the River Thames used to freeze over every winter too. Now over two centuries later, the glaciers have mostly retreated up the bay except for the Johns Hopkins Glacier which is advancing at a rate of over three metres a day.

So the earth has been warming for 250 years.

This is well before we started getting worried about belching industrial pollutants into the atmosphere.

So my point is that there is visual manipulation happening on a daily basis on the matter of climate change. Emotional pictures like sick polar bears and calving glaciers tell false stories out of context, and the world’s televisual media have a duty to present images of truth.

I hold absolutely no hope that will ever happen.

Peter Williams is host of Magic Mornings.