Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Daily Mail shouldn't accuse Discovery of censoring global warming

I am a huge fan of nature documentaries. So it was with great excitement that I discovered the discovery channel would be playing a BBC series called frozen planet in 2012. BBC produced some of my favorite nature series such as Planet Earth and Blue Planet. These series have exactly the elements I like in a nature documentary emphasizing the excitement of learning about our world and the beauty of science. Probably my favorite thing about these shows is that they don't fall prey to the modern documentary techniques of using exciting music and overly dramatic narrators.

Thus, it was with some dismay that I learned the Discovery Channel would not be airing the final episode of Frozen Planet that deals with Global Warming. I learned of this from an Article in the daily mail (a British Newspaper) that seemed to imply that Discovery was censoring the episode due to global warming being controversial in the United States. At first I was outraged that the discovery channel would do this, but by the time I finished reading the article I was more angry with the daily mail for irresponsible reporting. That is, until I realized that the daily mail was giving a perfect topic for discussing misleading arguments.

The reason I was angry with the reporting done by the daily mail is that they use misleading arguments to make it look like it is a fact that the discovery channel is censoring the global warming episode. There are a few different techniques used by the Daily Mail. First, they use a title that implies Discovery is censoring. Second, they present all evidence that Discovery is censoring at the top of the article and only throw in contradictory evidence at the end. Third, they present simple facts as if they were statements made by Discovery. Fourth, they use misleading arguments. I will address each of these problems individually.  Then I will close with a presentation of the actual evidence that the Daily Mail has (which is almost none) that Discovery dropped the episode due to global warming controversy.

The title of the article is "Climate Change episode of Frozen Planet won't be shown in the U.S. as viewers don't believe in global warming." This title seems to say that the reason the episode won't be shown is due to global warming. This implies that Discovery has admitted this to be true or at least that there is good evidence it is true. However, near the bottom of the article we find that discovery channel listed the reason for not playing the episode as being scheduling issues. The question then is whether there is sufficient evidence to justify this title since Discovery didn't admit that the controversiality of global warming was an issue.

The problem is that the article doesn't present sufficient evidence that this was Discovery's reason. But before I explain why I believe the evidence is insufficient let me address the other issues with this article.

The second issue with this article is that it presents information that appears to condemn Discovery first. After presenting initial information that would imply Discovery is censoring the Mail then lists other evidence which might show that Discovery is not in fact censoring. By leading with pro-censoring information the Mail creates bias in the readers and makes it appear that this beginning information is more important. Additionally, this raises the problem that those who merely look at the title and read the beginning will not learn of the counterarguments.

The third issue is that the Mail presents some arguments as if they were made by Discovery. The Mail uses statements like "it is feared a show that preaches global warming could upset viewers in the US . . . . ." However, the article doesn't say who has such fears. If Discovery had such fears we would have expected the Mail to say: "Discovery fears..." because that would be more accurate reporting. However, since the Mail uses the generic "it is feared" we can fairly safely assume that Discovery never made any such statement.

The next statement that appears to come from Discovery but likely does not is the statement that Discovery is "refusing to accommodate Frozen Planet in its entirety." Again it appears that Discovery has said it refuses to air the episode when in fact Discovery has simply said that it doesn't plan to air the episode.

The Mail also states that the episode is being shown right before a presidential race which could be a sensitive time for global warming to be presented. Again, this was not a reason given by Discovery but is instead is simply the Mail trying to imply that this was Discovery's reason.

The fourth problem with this article is the use of misleading statements. The article states that there is fear in the US of viewers being upset by shows preaching climate change. However, the mere fact that this fear exists doesn't mean that is Discovery's reason for not showing the show. The Mail has simply thrown in this fact and tried to pretend that Discovery said it in order to make Discovery look guilty.

Next the Mail states that discovery is "refusing" to air the episode it helped make. This is misleading because it makes it appear that there is some sort of battle involved where the BBC wants to ensure the episode is shown but Discovery is refusing this demand. The word "refusing" is thus misleading because it is normally used in these argumentative contexts. In reality Discovery has just "decided" to not show the episode. The use of this framing by the mail is a technique used to create prejudice by using words that imply guilt rather than using more neutral words. The Mail further frames the issue to make Discovery look guilty by stating that "countries had shunned" the episode. The choice of the word "shunned" instead of "chose not to air" implies that Discovery is trying to avoid the episode due to controversy when Discovery has said no such thing.

The final misleading statement is when the article quotes a greenpeace activist who states that "climate change is the most important part of our polar story." This statement is used to try to imply that the final episode of Frozen Planet is the most important episode. However, the greenpeace spokesperson who said that was not related to the making of the episode and there is no evidence he was even referring to it. Thus, the inclusion of this statement appears to be just to inflame the public about Discovery's decision.

Now that I have shown the misleading techniques used by the Mail I want to go over the evidence that the Mail has presented that demonstrates Discovery is censoring and the evidence that Discovery is not censoring.

The Evidence that Discovery is Censoring:
The mail only gives circumstantial evidence that Discovery is censoring due to global warming being controversial. The mail only has three pieces of evidence. First, the episode won't be aired. Second, global warming is controversial in the US. Third, the show will air before a US presidential election. When these pieces of evidence are presented individually and not in the context of misleading rhetoric it becomes clear how weak the argument is. The mere fact that global warming is controversial is not sufficient to prove that Discovery is in fact censoring. More evidence is needed. Without such evidence the Mail should not be implying that Discovery is censoring.

Evidence against Censoring:
Now for the evidence against the argument that Discovery is censoring. The first piece of evidence is that Discovery stated they are not airing the episode due to scheduling issues. Now of course Discovery could be lying, but perhaps we should require some evidence of a lie before we simply jump to that conclusion. As shown above, the Daily Mail has not provided sufficient evidence that we should think discovery is lying.

A second argument that I find most compelling is a pretty powerful reason Discovery would have for not airing the episode on global warming. A BBC spokesperson noted that the episode on global warming features David Attenborough (a British narrator who narrates the entire British version of the series) speaking in front of the camera for much of the episode. The BBC spokesperson notes that this could be problematic in countries outside of Britain where Attenborough is not a star. For this very reason the BBC has sold rights to Frozen Planet in packages that lack this final episode because the BBC feared it would be too difficult for other countries to translate the episode.

After reading this I started to wonder whether Discovery would choose a new narrator for the entire series to replace Attenborough. I wondered this because previous BBC documentaries narrated by Attenborough have been redubbed with new Narrators when sold in the US. A little quick research showed me that this was in fact the case. Discovery has chosen Alec Baldwin to Narrate Frozen Planet. Thus, it would make sense for Discovery to not wish to air the final episode of Frozen Planet that features Attenborough on Camera. It would be seriously confusing for viewers to watch a show narrated by Baldwin to suddenly be presented with a final episode featuring a new narrator, David Attenborough.

My discussion above regarding choice of narrator is of course all speculation and it may or may not be true. However, regardless of whether that was one of Discovery's reasons there are still large problems with the Mail's article. The Mail implied the episode was cut due to global warming controversy when in fact their only evidence to support this was the fact that global warming was controversial and that the episode was cut. Additionally, the Narrator reason listed above would be a valid non-censoring reason for Discovery to cut the episode. Thus, without some evidence of censoring by Discovery I will ignore the Mail's argument as a misleading piece of journalism.

In closing, I want to emphasize that I am not saying that the Mail is wrong. Perhaps Discovery really is censoring. However, the Mail failed to present any convincing evidence of censoring. Thus, the argument I am making in this post is twofold: first, the daily mail has not presented any solid evidence that Discovery is censoring, and second, the mail has used seriously misleading techniques to make it appear that there is evidence of censoring. This means I am left in the default opinion that Discovery is not censoring unless I am presented with better evidence of censoring.

Cited Sources:
Daily Mail Article

Discovery Choosing new Narrator

Further Sources:
New Statesman Article

Green-Blog Article

It looks like Discovery will in fact air all the episodes of the Frozen Planet series including the final episode on global warming.

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