What is an Environment Correspondent?

You might think that this is a trick question. An Environment Correspondent is supposed to report on the live issues and news relating to the environment, and to have, one would assume, some passing knowledge of the key environmental issues of the day.

As the best funded and globally networked media organisation in the UK, you’d have thought the BBC would have the resources to produce environmental journalism of some quality. Indeed the BBC itself only last year had to admit its own environment and climate change coverage was poor – based on the daft idea of false equivalence – and had to re-set its entire policy, sending a briefing to all relevant staff.

Which is all strange because Kevin Keane, apparently Scotland’s Environment Correspondent, wrote an article a few days ago that is astonishing.

Titled “Oil exploration in North Sea ‘to bounce back’ in coming year” Keane explained that: “Oil exploration in the North Sea is expected to begin a bounce back over the coming year, according to analysts Wood Mackenzie.”

In a gushing piece Keane faithfully cites Research analyst Kevin Swan:

“Norway will be at the heart of the uptick, with drilling expected to reach pre-downturn levels.

“We forecast over 40 exploration wells will be drilled, up from 26 in 2018.

“Exploration is back in the UK too. It languished in 2018, with just eight wells drilled, the lowest number since the 1960s.

“We expect the UK sector to see between 10 to 15 wells this year.”

You might be waiting for some context – say for example – the IPCC report – or some commentary on how this relates to the Scottish or the UK climate change targets – or, well, anything at all really relating to the – you know – ‘Environment’. But nope. Nothing.

Keane’s report continues…

“Siccar Point’s Blackrock and Lyon wells, west of Shetland, are those analysts believe carry the biggest potential.

Equinor – formerly Statoil – is expected to drill around 20 wells in UK and Norwegian waters.”

There’s no mention of Statoil’s greenwashing their name change, there’s no mention of the climate crisis, and the pivotal role of fossil fuels, there’s just talk of the “biggest potential”.

This is very likely just churnalism.

The ‘Environment Correspondent’ is on his first week back and look – here’s a press release.

But this is really dire inexcusable bad journalism.

It’s utterly lazy and bereft of any critical thinking at all.

We are used to business journalists covering oil and gas and coal as if there is no imminent ecological crisis that threatens humanity’s existence, but for the Environment Correspondent to treat the subject with such complete contempt it should be questioned.

Comments (14)

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  1. Willie says:

    Quite right Mike.

    Not wishing to be too crude about it but what else can one expect from a pish so called news organisation like the the BBC. And that is why we read the alternative news media.

  2. MBC says:

    Thank you for this Mike. You are a voice of sanity.

  3. Graeme Purves says:

    Louise Batchelor and David Miller previously reported authoritatively on environmental matters for BBC Scotland.

    1. Iain MacKinnon says:

      It’s a very important point that Mike raises and I hope questions are asked. I do think that the correspondent made a very bad choice in his perspective on this story, but I wonder if some of the responsibility should be at the door of his employers.

      I agree with Graeme that both Louise Batchelor and David Miller were judicious correspondents. However, I see that Kevin Keane’s title is ‘environment, energy and rural affairs’ correspondent. That’s a hell of a brief and, as I understand it, neither Louise nor David had the editorial burden it brings with it – there is a tension, to put it mildly, between an energy correspondent (which is arguably economically focussed) and an environment correspondent (which is ecologically focussed).

      Although Kevin has made a bad choice in the ‘spin’ he put on the oil story, the BBC has put him in a position where he has been given that choice. Neither Louise nor David had that choice to make because the BBC, wisely I would say, chose not to give them the strange dual remit that Kevin Keane has. Given the central importance of the politics of the environment for our future well-being as a country, and as a species, I think there’s a strong argument that the BBC should create (or restore) a dedicated environment correspondent position and make sure that this is held by someone for whom the environment is their central point of concern (I had the feeling it was, or became, that way for Louise Batchelor in particular).

      1. Hi Iain – yes I think the deeper problem is with the editorial framework of BBC Scotland. I’m not really asking for correspondents to be passionate – just that the journalism is coherent.

        Its no longer possible to contain these categories into distinct silos where we can just pretend that ‘business’ and ‘fossil fuels’ can be viewed though some neutral detached prism.

        1. Indyman says:

          The BBC have got pretending to be unbiased and detached off to a fine art, they have been working at it for decades. The sad thing is that so many otherwise intelligent and discerning people are taken in by it.

  4. Jenn Parkhouse says:

    Methinks someone showing such bias might well have an interest in the industry, perhaps of a pecuniary nature.

  5. Block says:

    I think an environmental correspondent might have reported that in the same week that Nicola Sturgeon flew to Poland to give a Swiss playboy £1 million from the public purse in the name of “fighting climate change” her colleague Kirsty Blackman was telling Westminster that SNP policy is to extract every last barrel of oil from the North Sea and that handouts should be given to corporations so that this activity can continue long after it has become uneconomic.

    1. It wasnt meant to be a party political point at all. This is/was about media coverage.

  6. Letter for publication

    12.1.19

    Ref “What is an environment correspondent?” Bella Caledonia, 10.1.19

    Sir,

    Your comment piece is referring to a single online news article covering a report on the oil and gas industry by Wood McKenzie. It is a brief news story. It is not intended to be, nor written as, a piece of commentary or analysis.

    To criticise it for lacking context or depth is therefore unwarranted. Each story that is written or broadcast has to cater for disparate audiences and levels of understanding. To criticise the author’s professionalism on the basis of the piece is grossly unfair.

    Kevin Keane wrote the story. Kevin is a senior correspondent for BBC News. He covers The Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs for BBC Scotland, and is a former network correspondent.

    He has written extensively on the oil and gas sector, and its impact on climate change, including the IPCC report, with abundant context as you can see here.

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-46358715

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-45738478

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-42884861

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-41372379

    Each story on the energy industry requires knowledge and nuance as well as different styles of reporting, whether it be online or broadcast. Kevin’s breadth and depth of work continually displays this.

    Kevin has covered his specialisms on TV, online and radio with insight, zeal and commitment and is very well received by the audience and those within the sector.

    Whilst we would always accept fair criticism of our output, your pillorying of one small news article to back up an argument which besmirches the work and professionalism of a fellow journalist is both unwelcome and demeaning of our industry.

    Yours

    Howard Simpson

    News Editor

    BBC News

    1. Dear Mr Simpson

      thank your for your response.

      Several aspects of it are of note.

      The first is the comments that “Kevin Keane wrote the story. Kevin is a senior correspondent for BBC News. He covers The Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs for BBC Scotland, and is a former network correspondent. ”

      These facts are well known. I’m not sure what I am intended to glean from these sentences?

      Do you think that the simple fact that ” Kevin is a senior correspondent for BBC News” is a defence in and of itself? I worry that you do. But thank you for telling me that Kevin wrote the story.

      You appear to have written a response to a political and editorial criticism as if you were a headteacher reporting on a pupil: “Kevin is very well received by the audience and those within the sector.”

      What is the “sector” you are referring to in this sentence?

      I rather fear that the sector is the oil and gas sector. Can you clarify if this is the case?

      The second issue that your response raises is that you seem to justify your correspondents writing by claiming that “He has written extensively on the oil and gas sector, and its impact on climate change, including the IPCC report, with abundant context as you can see here”.

      You then forward links which prove the exact opposite including an extraordinary further example of reporting for an Environment Correspondent here:

      https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-42884861

      and no, adding a cursory, token quote from WWF does not constitute “abundant context”.

      The issue of your coverage and your editorial framing is not about one individual correspondent, it is about you as a news organisation failing on a massive scale to report the climate crisis with any level of seriousness.

      You cannot with any level of credibility combine the jobs of reporting on the oil and gas sector and the environment in the context of the IPCC Report and the scientific consensus on climate crisis.

      Your correspondent has been put in an impossible position.

      I look forward to your clarification of the issues raised.

      Yours
      Mike Small
      Editor

      1. Graeme Purves says:

        Howard Simpson’s reply tends to confirm that the problems at BBC Scotland are at management and editorial level.

        1. Yes – he seems gleefully oblivious to any problem. This is not a surprise. The BBC probably just reflects most ofg society which is incapable / and / or unwilling to process this reality.

  7. Bob Nugent says:

    ITS THE BBC ITS EXPECTED
    LIKECALL MAINSTREAM HACKS
    THEY GET LAZY AND FALL INTO LINE WITH TORY/LABOUR DICTATE

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