Guest blog: RenewableUK: ‘Enough is enough’ from the press?

By Charlotte Webster

The last thing the UK wind industry needed at its annual RenewableUK conference in Glasgow last week was to wake up to the BBC, Daily Mail and Telegraph  headlines ‘enough is enough for onshore wind’.

Prompted by Energy Minister John Hayes’ unauthorised and policy defying comments ahead of his, later discarded, RenewableUK speech, the press lapped up his controversial quick punch to renewables despite a fast putting in place by Hayes’ boss Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Davey.

This unwelcome episode in the anti-renewables press saga was, arguably, just another opportunity for the Mail and Telegraph to roll out their long held sentiment no doubt fuelled by increasing PR from the oil and gas lobby.

Measuring media sentiment

Indeed, CCgroup’s latest research on the media’s attitude to renewables confirms a strong anti-renewables bias in the UK’s five most read papers: The Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mirror and The Sun.

Our full findings will be published at the end of November, but, in short, we’ve found reporting to be dominated by reactive, negative stories with less than 10% of articles including a quote or viewpoint from a spokesperson for the renewables industry.

This temperature gauge was reinforced at the RenewableUK communications session “How Others See Us – Public Perception and Rebalancing the Media Narrative” by Steven Vass, Deputy Business Editor, at Scotland’s Sunday Herald. In analysing how the media perceives the wind industry, in the top circulating 11 national papers, he found a marked shift from positive to negative coverage from 2009 to 2012.

-In October 2009 Vass found 24 positive articles, 15 neutral and seven negative. By March 2011 this had swung to 19 negative, 11 neutral and only seven positive.
– This month, October 2012, saw an even bigger jump to the negative with a staggering 40 negative pieces, not nearly balanced by 21 neutral and eight positive.

Why the democratic deficit?

Vass argued that this imbalance was fuelled by years of communications complacency from the wind industry, unwilling to accept the investment made by fossil fuels in communication. He argued that this resulted in lack of co-ordination, poor messages and reluctance to spend money.

He asked simply ‘Why don’t your stakeholders speak to the media?’

Another cause of the silent renewables voice was explored by Dr. Chris Jones, from the department of Psychology at the University of Sheffield.

Jones has been observing theories of ‘goal pursuit’ in an attempt to address the ‘democratic deficit’.

– His argument is that it’s not just ‘Nimbyism’ preventing public acceptance of wind, but that because opponents act locally with regards to a specific goal, rather than globally, they actively speak out.
– Proponents of climate change and energy security, the majority, become a minority because their goals are more global in nature. They are more inclined to be silent.
– As controversy sells, this minority group is given more of a hearing by the media, amplifying its voice. This makes the ‘minority group’ the majority.  This leaves the supportive majority perceiving themselves as a minority.

Jones’ insight is perhaps not news to renewables per se., but it does reinforce the point that the industry is simply not getting a fair hearing reflective of its public support.

How to proceed: Act fast and get mean.

As Steven Vass argued, renewables has some way to go in correcting the bias. We agree, and strongly suggest it needs to:

1/ Find its voice with the right spokesperson, or at least an alignment between spokespeople

2/ Be clear with its message – one that links emotional AND rational cases

3/ Create intelligent content based on its vision, the issue it’s solving and its ability to deliver

4/ Act fast on rebuttal and get mean. It needs to face up to the fossil fuel industry and claim its turf.

Is the renewable industry going to make a stand and say ‘enough is enough’ from the press? We certainly hope so.

This was first published at ccgroup.

Charlotte is head of clean technology at CCgroup, having joined them in June 2012. Former PR Manager at Solarcentury, Charlotte has over eight years’ Clean Technology and sustainable business PR experience. Charlotte co-launched SolarAid, a charity that aims to replace kerosene lamps with solar alternatives in developing countries. She holds a BSc. in Geographical Sciences from the University of Bristol and has trained in PR, journalism and documentary production. 

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