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‘Why the Media Is To Blame for Just Stop Oil Protests’

‘For the media to be interviewing political leaders and not even asking the questions is shocking’

A student paints a building at the University of Bristol in the name of Just Stop Oil in October 2023. Photo: Jamie Bellinger / Alamy
A student paints a building at the University of Bristol in the name of Just Stop Oil in October 2023. Photo: Jamie Bellinger/Alamy

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The media has been blamed for Just Stop Oil’s protests, with critics suggesting that the environmental group has been forced to act because major protests on climate and nature aren’t being reported.

Matthew Todd, former Editor-in-Chief of Attitude magazine, called out the BBC, ITV News and Sky News on X (formerly Twitter) last month after the broadcasters all failed to cover the Restore Nature Now rally in London on 22 June, as did most major publishers.

Todd’s comments were echoed across social media, including by Gill Tavener, who suggested that the lack of media coverage of environmental protests vindicates the often criticised tactics of Just Stop Oil – the group has blocked roads and defaced artworks, planes, and heritage sites with orange paint – and Jacqueline Gordon, a clinical fellow in sustainability with the NHS, who posted “This is why people throw paint”. 

The Restore Nature Now rally in London led by Chris Packham, Emma Thompson, Caroline Lucas and Jenny Jones. Photo: Andrea Domeniconi /Alamy

The Restore Nature Now rally attracted an unprecedented 400-plus environmental groups and crowds of 100,000. And, for the first time, mainstream conservation organisations such as the RSPB, the National Trust, and The Wildlife Trusts took to the streets to march side-by-side with the more radical flank of the movement, such as Just Stop Oil, Animal Rising, and Extinction Rebellion.

Conservationist and broadcaster Chris Packham called out the incoming government, saying: “We need your commitment and determination to make a difference, to restore nature now.” 

Packham stood alongside actress Dame Emma Thompson, green entrepreneur Dale Vince, and former Green MP Caroline Lucas.

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Zoe Cohen, a seasoned climate and social justice activist and spokesperson, recalled a similar pattern of media silence around The Big One last April, when over a period of four days, an estimated 60,000 people gathered in Parliament Square to protest about the climate crisis but generated practically no press coverage. 

Cohen agrees that pressure groups such as Just Stop Oil shouldn’t need to exist.

“It is true to a significant degree that soup on a Van Gogh or orange powder on a snooker table gets front pages whilst 100,000 people peacefully surrounding Parliament with no arrests get little or no coverage,” she said, describing the current situation as an “arms race” driven by the media.

The lack of media interest, wasn’t lost on Lucas either: “With a very few honourable exceptions, there has been hardly any coverage of nature or climate in the election. I was listening to the radio this morning desperately hoping to hear something about this march being previewed on the radio, and as far as I could hear there was nothing.”

The Restore Nature Now march in London, which the media has been criticised for not covering. Photo: ZUMA Press Inc/Alamy

A few days after the rally, on 27 June, a Savanta poll for climate charity Possible revealed that 40% of voters didn’t think they were hearing enough about climate in this election campaign; while 35% said they had heard less about it this time around than in the lead-up to the 2019 General Election.

The previous month, Byline Times reported ‘how climate change went from a hot political issue to a tool to ‘divide and polarise’ the public in just five years‘, and how, “for the first time, there has been a serious and sincere attempt to divide and polarise the public on climate change”. 

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Packham was one of hundreds to hit out at the BBC for failing to cover the Restore Nature Now rally, writing on on X: “You know I love the BBC and celebrate all the things we pay our licence fee for. But yesterday whilst 100K peaceful people marched to demonstrate their love for life, all I could find on BBC News was a selfie of the gas-guzzling Taylor Swift. I’m sorry but that’s a disgrace”.

Others described the BBC’s lack of coverage as “shameful”,  “shocking” and “bias” and some have made official complaints to the broadcaster. 

A BBC spokesperson told Byline Times that the corporation did cover the rally “in some of our output, including on BBC Breakfast, the online live page and on radio”.

“Many marches take place around the UK every day, and unfortunately it isn’t possible to cover each one,” they added. “Whether we provide coverage of a particular march depends on editorial decisions over the day, looking at factors such as breaking news stories or an update to a recent news story.

“However, we appreciate that some of our audience members would have preferred for this particular march to have received more coverage.”

Cohen branded the BBC’s response as “gaslighting”.

“How many 100,000 people marches happen every day?” she asked. “How many times do people from across 300-plus nature related organisations and NGOs, representing over eight million people, come together and march on Parliament Square just before a general election?”

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Cohen accused the established media of a systematic failure to report on climate and biodiversity, not just during this election campaign, but for decades.

“This total failure is a significant contributing factor to why the catastrophic, irreversible harm has been enabled to occur,” she said. “It is gross negligence on a global scale.” 

Failure to report on the major rally, follows a number of alarming reports on the climate.

In April, global warming reached 1.28ºC and could reach 1.5ºC – the limit agreed under the Paris agreement – by May 2033, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change.

New research warns that the economic damage from an  increase of 1ºC of global warming is six times worse than previously predicted and could significantly reduce, by up to 12%, the global gross domestic product (GDP). 

The 2023 State of Nature report, a collaboration between environmental NGOs, academic institutions and government agencies, concluded that the UK is now one of the most nature depleted countries in the world.

Labour Leader Keir Starmer and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during the BBC’s head-to-head 2024 General Election campaign debate. Photo: PA/Alamy

The frustration of those fighting to protect the planet was exacerbated by the fact that Labour Leader Keir Starmer and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak weren’t asked a single question on climate change or biodiversity during BBC’s final head-to-head on 26 June, or during either of their party manifesto launches.

Ecotricity’s Dale Vince, who has made significant donations to Just Stop Oil in recent years, called the lack of interest in biodiversity and climate during the General Election campaign “disappointing”. 

“We know that Labour have got big net zero plans, and we know the Conservatives are against net zero,” he said. “But there hasn’t been a big debate on the merits of getting to net zero faster.”

CEO of The Wildlife Trusts, Craig Bennett, described the relationship between journalists and politicians at Westminster as a ‘catch 22’ situation: because the media doesn’t ask any questions about climate change and biodiversity loss, politicians don’t talk about it and vice versa.  

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“When you’ve got the very best of British science telling us that one of the greatest existential threats this country faces is the loss of nature and climate chaos,” he said. “Then for the media to be interviewing political leaders and not even asking the questions is shocking.”

For Bennett, the established media and politicians from the UK’s main parties are in a “Westminster bubble”, just talking to each other, and “desperately out of touch with the British public” on climate and biodiversity.

 “The public get it and it’s the politicians and the media that don’t,” he added. “It’s the politicians and the media that are playing catch up on these issues compared to the public.”


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