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A group linked to Extinction Rebellion is planning legal action against the Telegraph newspaper for its climate change coverage.
The potential international case, inspired by the UK Youth Climate Coalition’s (UKYCC) legal challenge against oil giant BP which is now at the International Criminal Court, aims to hold the media accountable for what the group perceives as misleading and inadequate reporting on the climate crisis.
Climate activist Jon Fuller has been working with a group called Climate Genocide Act Now as well as UKYCC, with two researchers analysing the Daily Telegraph and all its output on climate related issues.
“We’re planning to get a dossier of evidence covering six months, and submit a case to the International Criminal Court to say that this is evidence of incitement of crimes against humanity. We think we’ve got a chance of getting there”, Fuller told Byline Times.
The group has conducted around four months of research so far, and have at least two months to go. “On one day recently, there were 13 articles in the paper campaigning against net zero. Next to them, all the adverts to “fly here, there and everywhere”,” Fuller said in an interview.
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The Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph together have an estimated print circulation of around 300,000 copies, but in August the media group announced that it had hit one million subscriptions overall due to a surge in digital subscribers, as well as reaching around 14 million people online each month. It is viewed as the ‘house newspaper’ of the Conservative Party.
The titles are currently up for sale after Lloyds Bank seized the titles over unpaid debt from the Barclay family earlier this year. The sale could go through within weeks, with senior Conservatives calling for the Government to intervene over a billion-pound bid by Abu Dhabi-backed investment fund RedBird IMI. The United Arab Emirates does not have a free press.
The main focus of climate campaigners’ work on the Telegraph is to record and analyse articles that undermine efforts to tackle climate change. “This looks at how readers are informed about the scale of the threats, or the number of people being killed, and the campaigning in favour of ongoing use of oil and gas and coal. Because those policies get lots of people killed,” the campaigner told Byline Times.
The group say they are getting “very good” legal advice from climate lawyers. “We have had a professional legal opinion, noting that the policies that cause climate change can be prosecuted using international criminal law, and there is no lawful impediment. The impediments are purely political,” Fuller said.
“The emphatic evidence from experts in international criminal law is that there’s a case. The more people and more groups that do it, the sooner we make the breakthrough. The sooner we can get a breakthrough, the sooner politicians are forced into action,” he added.
The news comes after analysis by climate outlet DeSmog found that nearly one in five (18 percent) of 1,930 Telegraph opinion pieces reviewed by the investigative site featured an attack on climate science, policy or environmental groups. Nearly one in 10 of the Telegraph’s editorials expressing the views of the newspaper addressed the environment in some way – and every single one of these were anti-green.
Climate Genocide Act Now’s efforts revealed today spring out of Extinction Rebellion’s media-focused campaign “Tell the Truth” in 2019, which aimed to push the BBC and other major outlets to fully address the climate emergency in their coverage.
The group asserts that the media – and in particular right-wing papers like the Telegraph – have consistently failed to report the current death toll from climate-related disasters and the severity of “impending climate feedback” loops, like climate change leading to permafrost thaw which itself triggers high levels of methane emissions – further exacerbating the climate crisis. Meltic sea ice in the Arctic also weakens sunlight reflection that cools the climate, known as the albedo effect.
Through protests and negotiations with media giants like the BBC and ITN, Extinction Rebellion has pushed for “more transparent and comprehensive” climate reporting. While some progress has been noted, particularly with ITN’s enhanced coverage, the group believes media still falls short, especially in covering climate-induced crises in regions such as the Horn of Africa.
Climate Genocide Act Now accuses the Telegraph in particular of spreading misinformation and actively campaigning against renewable energy technologies and emissions-reducing tools like heat pumps, potentially contributing to climate misinformation.
The group is also highlighting the “hostile and often abusive” rhetoric levelled at climate activists in the media, pointing out instances which they claim border on incitement to violence. Complaints to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) have yielded mixed responses.
Fuller details instances where the Telegraph and similar outlets have been caught propagating misleading information. One notable example involves publishing incorrect figures about the cost of reaching Net Zero, which were later withdrawn by the think tank Civitas but continued to be cited by several right-wing newspapers.
For Fuller, the incident highlights a wider pattern where these publications allegedly prioritise sensationalism over factual accuracy, especially concerning climate change.
By downplaying the immediacy and severity of climate threats and discrediting sustainable technologies, the newspapers are accused of contributing to a delay in critical climate actions.
The failure to adequately connect extreme weather events, like Storm Ciaren and the 2022 heatwaves in England and Wales, to the broader narrative of climate change is another point of criticism.
Fuller draws attention to the direct human costs of climate change, with the 2022 heatwaves in England and Wales resulting in over 3,000 deaths.
The campaigners also point to recent incidents where thousands of people have lost access to water due to extreme weather events, illustrating the tangible, immediate impacts of climate change on everyday life.
For Climate Genocide Act Now, efforts to tackle the climate crisis rely on “theft” from future generations – with the burden of responsibility put on those who didn’t cause the biggest damage.
Extinction Rebellion has also flagged abusive language that appears about climate groups in the press, in a dossier seen by Byline Times. Newspapers have often referred to “climate fanatics”, “eco-zealots” and “eco mobs” when covering those protesting the government’s inaction over climate issues.
The Daily Star refers to campaigners like XR as “Tarquins”, to portray them as “toffs” – individuals who lecture working class people.
Writing for the Sun this June, controversial columnist Rod Liddle said that if he came across anybody blocking the street over climate change he would run them over. He wrote in the paper: “If it were up to me I would advance towards them in a steamroller. ‘Glued your arse to the road have you? Well you won’t be needing it much longer’”.
Articles in other outlets have suggested protesters should be punched in the face. And Dan Wootton, the disgraced former presenter on GB News, appeared to egg on a driver who was later convicted of ramming Insulate Britain protesters with her car in 2021. During the interview, Wootton asked the woman, Sherrilyn Speid: “How tempted were you, Sherrilyn, to go a little bit harder into those women?”.
Update: Lib Dem group Liberal Reform has condemned the planned legal action as a “textbook example of vexatious litigation” on Twitter/X, while conservative media critic Dan Gainor branded it a SLAP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation), viewed as an attack on free speech. Progressive commentator Sunder Katwala also dismissed it as a “stunt”.
Telegraph Media Group did not respond to a request for comment.
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