ABC’s Pro-Wind Power Bias Exposed as a National Scandal
Ever had the feeling that certain quarters of the media give the wind industry an easy run?
Australia’s National broad-sheet, The Australian stands as an exception; publishing plenty of pieces that, quite rightly, highlight the obscene cost and spurious “benefits” of the mandatory Renewable Energy Target and its product: the wind industry (for just a few examples, see our posts hereand here and here and here and here).
Not so, over at “your” ABC. The ABC (aka “Aunty”) is referred to as “the National Broadcaster”; it has numerous TV channels and radio stations that broadcast news and current affairs across the country. It is fully funded by Australian taxpayers to the tune of around $1.3 billion annually.
When it comes to renewable energy, and the wind industry in particular, the ABC runs a consistent narrative that touts the purported benefits, but rarely, if ever, delves into the fundamental flaws of trying to rely on highly unpredictable, unreliable and intermittent wind power. Moreover, the ABC avoids any investigation or analysis of the massive stream of subsidies added to power bills and directed to wind power outfits in the form of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), courtesy of the mandatory RET (see our post here).
Indeed, when confronted with that – inconvenient – part of the ABC’s pro-wind industry narrative, the ABC’s journalists become defensive and appear to act as advocates for the wind industry, rather than advocating for the Australian taxpayer and power consumer (ie, those that pay for the ABC) – as in this 7.30 interview of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Chief Economist Burchell Wilson (see our post here).
The wind industry puff pieces – often engineered by wind industry spin doctors, the Clean Energy Council – put up by the ABC conflate the issue of climate change with wind farms time and time again. If there’s a mention of the former, there’s almost certain to be an image and/or reference to the latter.
The ABC’s climate change narrative puts wind power up as THE solution to climate change, deliberately ignoring the facts; namely the need for 100% of its capacity to be backed up 100% of the time by fossil fuel generation sources, which means, therefore, that wind power cannot and will never reduce CO2 emissions in the electricity sector (see our postshere and here and here and here and here and here and here).
Wind power is not a substitute for conventional generation sources and – if CO2 is the problem – presents as a solution to nothing (see our post here).
The wind industry has never produced a shred of evidence to show that wind power has reduced CO2 emissions in Australia’s electricity sector. To the contrary of wind industry claims, the result of trying to incorporate wind power into a coal/gas fired grid is increased CO2 emissions (see thisEuropean paper here; this Irish paper here; this English paper here; and this Dutch study here). But, despite the evidence, the gullible and naive that pass for journalists at the ABC suck up the drivel spouted by the wind industry and its parasites, and present wind industry spin as gospel fact.
What’s that they say about never letting the facts get in the way of a good story?
With news that PM, Tony Abbott, his Treasurer, Joe Hockey and Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann have joined forces on a mission to scrap the mandatory RET outright, the ABC immediately went into damage control, trotting out the “usual suspects” – spin doctors from the Climate Institute and Clean Energy Council hell-bent on saving the RET for the benefit of their paymasters; and giving panic stricken rent-seekers, like Infigen an unchallenged forum to plead for policy mercy.
On ABC’s News 24 (and elsewhere on the ABC) wind industry cheer squad, the Climate Institute trotted out “modelling” based on a complete fiction that subsidies to wind power outfits will drop from $70 per MWh in 2020 to around $10 per MWh by 2030.
The starry-eyed presenters at the ABC might have been able to challenge that transparent myth if they had bothered to take a cursory peek at the legislation that makes up the mandatory RET and applied a little good old fashioned arithmetic to its terms. By 2020, the RECs issued to wind power outfits (1 REC per MWh dispatched) will be worth at least $65 – and are expected to trade at around $100 by then – which means the subsidy extracted from power consumers and directed to wind power outfits will be worth at least $65 per MWh and, more likely, $100 per MWh. Between 2020 and 2031, the REC Tax/Subsidy will add between $36 billion and $50 billion to Australian power consumers’ bills (see our post here). But simple and hard facts are lost or ignored as “inconvenient” and “unhelpful” to the ABC’s pro-wind industry “narrative”.
More than just a little suspicious that the ABC is infected by groupthink and could, just maybe, be a teensy-weensy bit biased in favour of renewables, the Institute of Public Affairs commissioned independent research to see if their hunch had something in it.
Here’s The Australian on the – not so surprising – findings.
Environment of fear as ABC fails bias test
12 August 2014
THE ABC is not like any other broadcaster. With more than $1 billion in public funding, we rightly demand the ABC be rigorously fair, balanced and impartial.
On energy policy, we now know the ABC fails that test. As reported in The Australian yesterday, the Institute of Public Affairs released research that conclusively demonstrates the ABC’s bias against fossil fuels and in favour of renewable energy.
Energy policy is vital to our prosperity. Despite an abundance of natural resources, Australians pay among the highest electricity prices in the world, as a direct result of policy choices that have unquestionably been influenced by media coverage. However, this analysis could easily be replicated with the same results in other areas of ABC coverage.
In March, the IPA commissioned the independent media monitoring agency iSentia to analyse the ABC’s coverage of energy policy issues in relation to the coalmining industry, the coal-seam gas industry and the renewable energy industry. In the largest study of its kind, iSentia analysed 2359 separate ABC reports over a six-month period on these industries across national, metropolitan and regional radio and television.
The results were striking. iSentia found an astonishing 52 per cent of all ABC reports on renewable energy were favourable. Just 10.8 per cent were unfavourable.
Yet only 15.9 per cent of coalmining stories were favourable, while 31.6 per cent were unfavourable. And just 12.1 per cent of coal-seam gas stories were favourable and 43.6 per cent unfavourable. The renewable energy industry is heavily reliant on subsidies and regulatory favours via the mandatory renewable energy target. Indeed, independent modelling conducted by Deloitte Access Economics for the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has found the RET alone will cost the Australian economy $29 billion by 2020, push up power prices for households and businesses and kill 5000 jobs.
Yet iSentia found only 14 stories that cast the economic impact of the renewable energy industry in an unfavourable light. An incredible 117 stories suggested that renewable energy had a positive economic impact.
CSG and coalmining generate thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of exports, without government subsidies or regulatory favours, but the ABC was obsessed with the potential environmental impacts of the fossil fuels.
During the sample period, only 37 stories were broadcast that depicted the economic impact of the coal industry in a positive light, against 115 that suggested the industry would have a negative environmental impact. The benefits brought by CSG to the Australian economy merited the ABC’s attention only 52 times, but the assertion the industry would have a negative environmental impact was delivered in 259 stories.
iSentia found — surprise, surprise — that hopeful language featured in 93 stories on renewable energy, compared with 21 stories on CSG. The language of fear was used in 306 stories on CSG compared with 51 stories on renewable energy.
That’s hardly surprising given the interviewees. On coal-seam gas, the ABC’s go-to man is NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham, quoted in 92 stories — more than double the next most prominent guest. While federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt was the most quoted in stories about coalmining, a close second was Queensland Greens senator Larissa Waters.
On both radio and television, and across regional, metropolitan and national programs, the ABC consistently and overwhelmingly favoured renewable energy and treated the coalmining and coal-seam gas industries with extreme disfavour. This suggests the problem of bias at the ABC is endemic across the organisation.
If, as David Marr said, you have to be a leftie to be a journalist, then those who choose to work at a public broadcaster instead of a commercial outlet are even more likely to be left-wing. Once surrounded by others of a similar world view, and insulated from their audiences by the absence of a commercial imperative to seek advertising, it’s predictable that the personal preferences of journalists dominate coverage.
If bias at the ABC is systemic, only structural reform will solve it. A new board or management won’t change the culture. Privatising the ABC is the only way to ensure taxpayers’ money is not used to fund biased coverage.
James Paterson is director of communications at the Institute of Public Affairs.
The Australian’s Editor had this to say.
ABC all puff and wind on coal
12 August 2014
IF the national broadcaster realised the climate change debate was about facts and options rather than motives and agendas, it might be able to bring itself to discuss the implications and possible causes of more than 15 years without a rise in global average temperatures. The now notorious groupthink at Aunty — outed by none other than its former chairman Maurice Newman — can’t seem to cope with raising this global warming pause lest it insinuate some scepticism about the causes and trajectory of climate change.
That any group of inquiring minds could be so timid about dealing with reality is troubling enough, but when you consider this cohort is paid by taxpayers for the express purpose of providing balanced, objective and comprehensive communications about relevant facts and opinions, it approaches a national scandal. The world’s most prominent climate scientists seem to be capable of discussing how the climate is defying models without abandoning their alarm, retreating from their scientific theories or being isolated by their peers. But at the ABC, where they perhaps see themselves as a foothold of enlightenment holding back the hordes of capitalist exploitation and scientific denialism, we can only assume that they can’t handle the truth.
And so it is, presumably for the same reasons, with discussion of energy issues. Because the ABC has religion on climate — we saw in an Institute of Public Affairs report yesterday — it is intent on portraying coal as the devil and renewable energy as the saviour. Now, even if we were generous and said this ultimately might be the case, it does not excuse important facts about coal versus renewables in the here and now being ignored or misrepresented. The economic case is abundantly clear thanks to the overwhelming cost advantages of coal in electricity generation and its contribution to GDP. Coal generates 70 per cent of our electricity and more than 40 per cent worldwide. It is a $120 billion export industry, making us the second largest exporter after Indonesia. And, as the IPA reports, the cost per megawatt hour of coal-fired power is about $35, whereas wind and solar generation is typically at least three times the cost and available only a third of the time.
Yet ABC coverage gives three times more favourable coverage to renewable energy over coal, and in return provides three times more negative reporting on coal over renewables. Surprisingly the ratios are even worse — less favourable coverage and more negative — for coal-seam gas, even though this is the resource that has revolutionalised the energy sector worldwide by producing affordable baseload generation with about half the emissions of coal. Carried out by media monitors iSentia, which analysed 2359 reports over six months, the survey found the “language of fear” was used in more than a quarter of the CSG stories, a fifth of coal stories but about one in 20 renewable reports.
The ABC tends to discount the economic benefits of coal and CSG, preferring to focus on perceived environmental harm, while it trumpets the green benefits of renewables, tends to ignore costs and impracticalities but exaggerates potential economic gains. As Bjorn Lomborg often points out in these pages (ridiculously decried as a sceptic for his trouble), the climate challenge demands consideration of economic imperatives: costs, benefits, options and alternatives. Taxpayers deserve that debate. They can handle it.