[mediawatch] Listener calls out the hounds

NZ’s current affairs mag the Listener has got some stick from me in the past for its editorial policies under Pamela Stirling. A new development put the wind up me even further.
A chap named Dave Hansford in the Listener’s Eco column recently featured a piece on the ways in which climate change sceptics can effectively hack the media machine and get far greater coverage than their fringe perspectives deserve, with significant consequences for public understanding of climate change (and, consequently, limiting political will to make necessary changes).
This, naturally, kicked up a stink with the local climate change sceptics; international sceptic honcho Joseph Bast of Chicago was appraised of the situation and, in a letter published in the April 5 issue, demanded Hansford’s silence forevermore on the subject. The following week, the sceptics had their right of reply printed (opposite another article arguing the case for anthropogenic global warming). All par for the course in a magazine that is, as John Drinnan noted in the Herald blog, “no longer part of the movement”.
Then things took a twist. Hansford was booted from the Ecologic column. Local global warming blog Hot Topic noticed this (or was tipped to it), and made a post suspecting that sceptic pressure was responsible for the dumping. Hansford, for his part, came along to comment his own suspicions that this was the case.
You can read that article here, but not at Hot Topic itself, because it’s gone from there. In its place, a note that the article had been taken down thanks to the Listener and “their friends at [local law firm] Bell Gully”, and an obviously lawyer-drafted post apologising and retracting a bunch of stuff, including things that weren’t even alleged in the initial posting.
That’s when it got interesting to lots of people. I don’t think Hansford was booted because of sceptic pressure, or at least not *just* due to sceptic pressure; but Stirling’s response to this relatively innocuous and balanced blog post is startling. Legal blogger Steven Price of Media Law Journal posted about it with a sensible post, the conclusion of which deserves quoting in full:

The proper response would have been a one-line letter politely telling the Listener to sit on its thumb. I doubt that any further action would have been taken. But bloggers, and those who host their blogs, can’t always be that brave. That’s what makes leaning on assertions of legal rights in situations like this reprehensible, I think. I would have been much more persuaded by a thoughtful and factual response from the Listener’s editor on the blog itself setting out the magazine’s version of the story. It would have been much cheaper. And much more in keeping with the Listener’s commitment to open inquiry. And it wouldn’t have produced what’s likely to be an explosion of interest in the criticisms…

So that’s what I’m doing here – adding to the ‘explosion of interest’. Pamela Stirling’s continued dalliance with climate change scepticism is disheartening, but her response (and it is, presumably, her personal response) to this affair has been foolish and vicious and is worthy of condemnation. This is not how things should be done here. Not only that, I’m certain it’s convinced a lot of her critics that she’s guilty.
If you’re a Listener buyer, skip it next week, or the next couple of weeks. Email or ring to say why.
[Hat-tip to Poneke, who has covered this affair pretty damn well.]

2 thoughts on “[mediawatch] Listener calls out the hounds”

  1. Why anyone continues to give The Listener the time of day is beyond me. It has long since entered the realm of the Woman’s Weekly-style magazine, and should be similarly scorned.
    Also, even before the latest editor steered it headlong into the gutter, it was no great shakes. It seems that every month or so for the last however many years, it has had an article on education, and not a one that I have read has been of any worth whatsoever.
    It’s illuminating to look at what The Listener was like twenty or thirty years ago, in terms of the range and length of articles. No hints as to how those aspects were different from now.

  2. Jamie – I think the main reason the Listener still gets this kind of attention is that there isn’t anything better.
    Which is sad.

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