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The Journal’s disgracefully misleading Cow-Poll

One of the features of the journalistic jamboree around the COP 26 summit in Glasgow is that it has marked the moment when journalism in Ireland officially gave up any pretence to having a balanced discussion of the pros and cons of climate action. Almost every newspaper, radio station, and television news programme now takes an unapologetically activist bent to covering the climate: The world is on fire, we must act now. Nobody has embraced this approach more actively than our friends over at Journal Media.

Of course, there are two kinds of activist journalism. One, we engage in here at Gript: Where we can, we tell you about our opinions on the news, and why we think stories matter. For example, we have written extensively in overt opposition to vaccine passports in recent weeks, because we believe firstly that the passports are a bad, discriminatory, and ineffective policy, and because we believe secondly that somebody must provide opposition when the rest of the political and media establishment is 100% behind the consensus on that issue.

But the second kind of activist journalism is much more dangerous: That is when you start to completely misrepresent reality to your readers to direct them towards your politically preferred viewpoints. Yesterday, the Journal went just a little bit down that road. Here is how they presented a poll they conducted on Climate Change, and Ireland’s national herd:

It is worth remembering here what the Green/Climate Change position on the national herd is: They do not believe, for example, that keeping the herd at the present size is sufficient. They want to see a progressive reduction in the number of cattle in Ireland, in order to reduce our methane emissions. Remember that the objective of policy in Ireland is not to keep emissions at their current level – it is to halve our emissions over the next eight years. That cannot be done without significantly reducing the size of the herd.

It is completely silly, then, to throw together people who want to reduce the size of the herd, and people who want to keep it at its current level. Those two groups of people are actually diametrically opposed on policy. One group favours the Green position. The other group emphatically does not. Nevertheless, the Journal tosses them together in coalition in order to get it’s “almost half” claim.

What do the figures actually say?

Polling by The Good Information Project/Ireland Thinks found that 23% of people think the number of cows in Ireland should be limited to its current level and 22% feel it should be reduced.

However, people living outside of Dublin were far more likely to support farmers being allowed to decide their herd for themselves.

Overall, 39% of people think there should be no limit and farmers should be allowed to determine their herd.

Just 22% of Irish people want to reduce the size of the national herd.

39% want to allow farmers to increase the size of the national herd.

23% think the herd should stay at about the same size.

In terms of climate policy, it makes much more sense to add the 39% and 23% together: You get 62% of the Irish population who oppose taking the allegedly necessary action to reduce Irish methane emissions.

That is not “almost a majority” supporting national herd reduction. It is actually a landslide majority opposing any reduction in the national herd. Yet the Journal presents the figures in such a way as to give a casual reader, who reads the headline only, a completely misleading impression of the data.

This kind of thing is why it is increasingly foolish to trust the Irish media on Climate Change. Across the board, they have abandoned a commitment to accurate, non-partisan reporting, in favour of a commitment to advancing public awareness of climate change, and increasing public support for policies that some people believe are necessary to tackle climate change.

They will not report, in addition, important information to put these policies in a wider context: For example, it is an indisputable fact that any reductions in the Irish national herd would be offset many times over by Brazil alone, which intends to dramatically increase its own national herd over the same period, with the added cost of cutting down rainforest to do so.

Irish people might want to consider, for example, that the cost in environmental terms of having more cattle in Ireland is much less than the cost of having more cattle in Brazil, since Ireland has no rainforests, or other forests, left to cut down.

But you won’t get those facts in most of the Irish media. In fact, on Climate issues, you get few facts at all. It is activism, all the way down.

There is no remaining reason to trust that anything you read on this topic in Irish newspapers is objective, neutral, or factual. None at all.

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