March 20, 2015
Australia, Editorials

Watchdog a green-Left lapdog

The Australian | March 20, 2015 |

Unlike opponents and proponents of wind farms, The Australian has an open mind about their supposed adverse health impacts, if any.

Opponents complain those living in proximity suffer headaches, nausea, poor sleep and other problems from the turbines’ low-frequency noise. We have reported the arguments of both sides. The National Health and Medical Research Council has said the evidence is poor. But it has called for more research. Until then, the jury is out.

It is not the media’s job to play selective activist for either side in unresolved public health debates. But it is the job of an effective media watchdog to expose misleading coverage that clouds public understanding. The ABC’s Media Watch claims its role is “exposing media shenanigans’’ such as conflicts of interest, deceit and manipulation. Unfortunately, that brief neatly sums up the program’s own woeful record in reporting recent media coverage of the wind farm debate.

As we wrote yesterday, Flint Duxfield, the Media Watch researcher who worked on a program last month lampooning a wind turbine study conducted by an acoustics expert, was previously a paid publicist for AidWatch.

That anti-development, anti-mining and anti-free trade organisation was co-founded by Lee Rhiannon, now a Greens senator. Duxfield’s background came to light after Quadrant Online revisited the dust-up, in which the ABC program slammed The Australian’s coverage of acoustic expert Steven Cooper’s study of the effects of Pacific Hydro wind turbines on local residents at Cape Bridgewater in southwest Victoria.

The residents have complained about adverse health effects. In 2007 Duxfield wrote: “Our addiction to fossil fuels has pushed us beyond mere ‘anthropogenic interference’ with the climate and we are now on the brink of a climatic catastrophe.”

He would not comment this week on whether his background with AidWatch should have been disclosed in the Media Watch segment. It was relevant to the subject. Nor did Media Watch disclose that the key “expert’’ it quoted in its program, Sydney University professor of public health Simon Chapman, had his own conflict of interest. Professor Chapman has worked closely with the wind farm industry and castigated its opponents as “anti-wind farm wing nuts”.

On the other hand, the one-sided program ignored the views of those who backed Mr Cooper’s study, including some of the world’s most highly qualified acoustic experts who were quoted by The Australian. Some praised Mr Cooper’s work as “groundbreaking’’ and applauded his “unique contribution to science”. Mr Cooper is considering taking legal action against Media Watch for its portrayal of his work. He has complained that Duxfield, in researching the program, admitted he had only “skimmed” the report.

While giving short shrift to those concerned about wind turbines, green-Left journalists air the grievances of coal-seam gas opponents. No doubt ideology is at work. CSG produces greenhouse emissions, though at a lower rate than coal. Renewable energy does not but remains far from commercially viable on a large scale. Media Watch says it keeps “an eye on those who try to manipulate the media’’. That’s why its staff should leave their activist baggage at the door.

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