Extinction Rebellion Birmingham replies to the media coverage of the City Council’s Declaration of a Climate Emergency on June 11.


Dear Editor,

We write to complain about the media coverage of Birmingham City Council’s Declaration of a Climate Emergency on June 11 2019. It is the responsibility of the press to report on current events accurately, so that readers, listeners and viewers can reliably inform themselves by turning to a trusted news source without fear of omission, exaggeration or distortion. In our view, the local press and media did not live up to this standard when covering Birmingham’s Declaration of a Climate Emergency and we wish to put the record straight. We request that media sources do likewise.

Over one hundred local authorities and even Parliament itself had already declared a climate emergency before Birmingham took this step. However, given that we are currently facing a global climate crisis, and Birmingham is the UK’s second largest city situated in one of the world’s largest economies, was it wrong of us to assume that national and regional media would take notice of this major policy initiative?

Extinction Rebellion Birmingham, a group which has been in existence for only six months, pioneered the process in this city by starting a petition calling for Birmingham City Council to declare a climate emergency in March. This was supported by a wide range of campaigning organisations, including Climate Action Network West Midlands and Birmingham Friends of the Earth. As Extinction Rebellion publicised the issue and signatures on the petition grew, discussions on a possible motion began within the council. Shortly before the Council meeting, Extinction Rebellion sent a briefing paper to every Councillor to inform them in advance of the debate. On 11 June, despite the heavy rain, a sizeable lobby of the Council took place outside in Victoria Square when Extinction Rebellion members delivered the petition to representatives of the four Council political parties. The petition, containing over 3000 signatures from Birmingham citizens, was subsequently presented to the Council by Councillor Julien Pritchard (Green Party).

At the council meeting that afternoon, Councillor Pritchard was joined by representatives of the other three parties in proposing the motion, which was passed by 83 votes to zero. This is the first time such a motion has been passed with cross-party consensus. In the process of agreeing a joint motion, the form of words adopted drifted some distance from XR’s petition demands, briefing paper and guidance, for example on its timescale of going zero carbon by 2025 and on the need for a citizens’ assembly, but nevertheless the City Council has taken a big step forward. Councillors debating the motion in the Council Chamber referred to XR (Extinction Rebellion) as the source of this initiative and quoted from the briefing paper, as well as praising the young climate strikers and other groups who have helped raise public awareness of the crisis and challenge elected representatives to take decisive and meaningful action.

However, you would not know this from the reporting of the Birmingham Post and Mail. There was a front page story in the Birmingham Post of June 13th and more coverage on page three. However, while the article on page three ended with quotes from Birmingham Youth Strike 4 Climate and Birmingham Friends of the Earth, there was no mention of XR Birmingham. Instead, the longest quote was from the leader of the Conservative group, Cllr Robert Alden, and his was the only picture of a politician or campaigner included. You might be forgiven for thinking that it was all his idea!

Midlands Today did turn up and included a video report of the lobby and an interview with an XR activist on the lunchtime and evening news. As far as we know, the only other report which included pictures of the event was posted on the Climate Action Network West Midlands’ Facebook page. This report, produced as it was by amateurs, has received enormous interest, with over 10,000 hits to date.  The online report on Birmingham Live was similar to the one in the Birmingham Post. There was no coverage in the Birmingham Mail, Central TV, Radio WM or elsewhere that we are aware of.

Considering that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report of 2018, based on overwhelming scientific evidence, has stated that massive carbon reductions are urgently necessary, is it any wonder that Extinction Rebellion has taken the desperate measure of temporarily causing inconvenience to the public by blocking roads, among other actions, in order to get this message into the media? It is interesting to note that when Extinction Rebellion uses more regular political processes to achieve their aims, as in Birmingham, these are largely ignored by the media.

Birmingham City Council will set up a Climate Emergency Task Force to come up with a plan by January 2020 to achieve the goal of a zero carbon city by 2030. Climate activists are keen to assist with this process, and will hold the Council to account for any slippage in this objective. We require the mainstream press likewise to watch this space closely, report on developments and initiatives, and, if necessary, hold the Council to account.

Above all we need the media to treat the climate crisis as the global and existential emergency that it is, and recognise it as an already worsening humanitarian crisis that the people and decision-makers of this city have a critical role in influencing. It is the duty of the media to report the truth, even if those truths are uncomfortable. If you continue to downplay the fact that we are facing a threat to our continued existence, the media will have played a major role in undermining attempts to support the transition to a clean, green and just future. The media holds a very powerful position in our society, so you must tell the truth about the climate emergency.

The media should also take its own immediate steps to take climate action. These include:

  • Report on any new scientific evidence about the climate crisis.
  • Highlight the contrast between Government declarations of climate emergency and actual policy (e.g. airport expansion).
  • Maintain public consciousness and awareness about this issue with regular reports.
  • Words are powerful: change the language you use when reporting the climate crisis and weather: for example, 18˚C heat in February is not ‘perfect weather’ as stated in a BBC weather report – it is a danger signal.
  • Follow the Guardian’s editorial lead: instead of “climate change” the preferred terms are “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown” and “global heating” is favoured over “global warming.”
  • Educate all staff about this topic so they are climate crisis aware in all their reporting.
  • Audit your advertising revenues and consider banning the ones which promote fossil fuel use.

Yours sincerely,

Extinction Rebellion Birmingham

June 2019

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