Unenlightened centrism: the dangers of forced political balance

Whilst this new decade may signal the opportunity for a fresh start, we have managed to bring with us political concepts and ideas which have plagued our politics for the majority of the millennium. As a society, we are at a crossroads: the critical issues which face us need to be resolved within the next decade. The most pressing of these is, obviously, climate change, a fact made all the more strikingly apparent by the climate crisis currently burning Australia. However, this is only the tip of the (nearly melted) iceberg of issues we could face over the next decades.

It is evident that the only way to solve the problems we face, and avoid impending disaster, is to implement a clear, science-backed solution. That is to say, a drastic overhaul of our energy production, reducing emissions and introducing renewable energy. But somehow, we find ourselves in a position where elected representatives are unable to formulate a policy to prevent such catastrophes, continuing to extract our natural resources at an unprecedented rate and not switching to renewable sources of energy. As a result, they are directly allowing these crises to pass them by as they maintain the status quo.

There are a multitude of reasons for this political inaction, but the blame should be placed primarily at the feet of those politicians who bury their heads in the sand and refuse to listen to overwhelming consensus, be it due to extensive lobbying or sheer ignorance. There is, however, a more subtle contributing factor to this: media desire to appear ‘neutral’ or ‘balanced’ when covering the subject of climate change. A University of California study published last year found that a disproportionate amount of coverage has been given to climate change deniers over the past few years. The study concluded that around fifty percent of mainstream media visibility goes to those who refute scientific consensus. This not only disproportionately represents a small minority of lobbyists and politicians who refuse to accept years of accumulated data, it also gives validation to this fraudulent and unfounded viewpoint. This in turn implies that the debate surrounding climate change is not yet settled, giving politicians who vote against it an easy defence to use when called out for their rejection of climate policy.

A realistic and honest reporting of the crisis we all face would continuously hammer home how reversing our spiralling emissions is the gravest issue facing this planet, more pressing than the economy, immigration or even Brexit. This would not only spur the public into action, but also deny politicians the space to propagate their mistruths. To those who would argue that this would be an abuse of power by news media, particularly the BBC, denying the right of free speech to some the answer is simple: the purpose of the news should be to report the truth, and man-made climate change is an undeniable truth. You wouldn’t have a debate on Breakfast as to whether or not gravity was real.

Image by US Fish and Wildfire Service. Available on flickr under Creative Commons 2.0 license

However, this flawed concept of ‘balance’ extends much further than debates over climate change. When increasing political violence is mentioned, panel shows begin to equate a thrown milkshake or mean tweet with repeated instances of politically motivated shootings. Donald Trump famously referred to the ‘very fine people, on both sides’ of the 2017 Charlottesville rally, in an attempt to deflect from a radical increase in right-wing extremism since his election. Debates over immigration are obscured by consistent misinformation which mainstream media allows to persist, again claimed to be done in the name of balance or even to maintain ratings.

Despite all of this criticism, traditional media is not solely responsible for this perpetuation of the flawed idea of giving both sides of an argument an equal platform. Blame must also be laid at the feet of an old political class, who refuse to accept the changing circumstances in which they now find themselves. Before the 2019 election, both Tony Blair and John Major publicly rejected the two main parties, calling for a return to what they deemed to be the political ‘centre’. This desire has two fundamental flaws, however. The first is that, as hinted at previously, compromise on certain issues like climate change is completely ineffective. For example, the Lib Dem policy of decarbonisation by 2045 – a target they felt found a compromise between the needs of business and of the planet – is still unsatisfactory, lacking the decisive step to commit Britain to a new energy policy before it is too late, and only serves to reflect their inability to take decisive action. The second is that the current political centre is not what it was 20 years ago. The radicalisation of sections of the right into obstinate climate deniers has meant that the moving to the political ‘centre’ has meant gradually moving to the right of the political spectrum, in attempts to accomodate this new climate extremist wing. This problem plagues more than just British politics, however. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has repeatedly managed to hide his denial as an attempt to balance scientific reason with the conservative voices within his own party, taking little action on the most pressing issues within Australia. Whilst these may be seen as politically savvy moves, they fail to address the problem, and only perpetuate the stagnation we have experienced.

It is clear that the political world of today is a far cry from the one over which Blair and Major governed. The last decade has seen rapid and dramatic political shifts, particularly on the right. In order to solve the crises of today, extreme shifts in both attitude and policy are required. Both the media and our politicians have continuously failed to address serious issues, but their inertia is dismissed, or even lauded, as an attempt to pursue ‘balance’ or ‘compromise’. In the onslaught of online ‘fake news’ and echo chambers of denial, traditional forms of media must take a principled stand in upholding the truth, refusing to allow the consistent propagation of misinformation. As the 2020s commence, we will see whether or not the voice of truth can ring out loudly enough to win the battles our planet faces.


Featured Image by @jiangxulei1990. Available on Unsplash under Creative Commons 2.0 license

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