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Freedom of expression is not the same as a freedom to mislead



Three hundred and sixty-eight years ago today, John Milton published Areopagitica, and it remains to this day one of the most influential philosophical defences of free expression and speech, especially that of the press. With strong evidence that our press no longer reflects the view of the people, but of vested interests, when does press freedom slip towards propaganda?

Areopagus is a hill in Athens and it lent its name to a speech by the Greek orator Isocrates (5th century BC). Milton borrowed this title for his seminal pamphlet. As a protestant, he had strongly supported Presbyterian control of parliament after the civil war. Nevertheless, he objected to the Licensing Order of 1643, which required authors, such as Milton, to have a government approved license before their work could be published, and he wrote his 1644 pamphlet in response.

He makes five arguments:

1. A text should first be “examined, refuted, and condemned” before it is rejected, rather than being prohibited by license before its ideas have even been expressed

2. Being educated involves reading “books of all sorts”, including “bad” books. We learn from their wrongs and discover what is true by considering what is not

3. Licensing printing cannot prevent societal corruption. “If we think to regulate printing, thereby to rectify manners, we must [also] regulate all recreations and pastimes…”

4. Licensing which adheres to the government’s current prejudice hinders the discovery of truth

5. Before licensing, books had to be inscribed by the printer’s name (preferably an author’s name). If any blasphemous or libellous material was published, those books could be destroyed after the fact

In the Leveson era, the lasting strength of Milton’s central arguments is evidenced, as it is these arguments that are still used and are as valid today as they were over three centuries ago. We will revisit this in more detail in our forthcoming Guide to Responsible Media.

The work has been so influential that it was cited by the supreme court in the US, interpreting the first amendment – the freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly. A quote from the text stands above the door of the New York Public Library: “A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.”

“I run the paper purely for the purpose of making propaganda, and with no other motive” – Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook

One of the challenges for British democracy is our national ‘free’ press.

Broadcast media is heavily regulated for impartiality, but the press is able to blur the line between opinion and news. With the exception of the loss-making Guardian and troubled Mirror, the national press is wholly owned by wealthy individuals with strong political and economic perspectives.

The current band of press barons includes non-domiciles and alleged tax exiles, an ex-pornographer and an ex-KGB director. Two are foreign nationals, which would be prohibited in some countries, where the power of the press in shaping the national debate is recognised.

While their print reach is declining inexorably, this group of unaccountable fourth estate billionaires is able to reach 36% of the UK adult population every breakfast. Their online reach is also growing so they can still reach millions. It is the front pages and content of the national press, of all media, that is reviewed on radio and television news and current affairs programmes.

The brute power of reaching millions may have declined marginally during this frenetic period of media fragmentation, but it is still a brave or foolhardy politician who ignores the call of one of the barons and one of his editors.

“We’ve struck a gold mine!” – Alfred Harmsworth, Lord Northcliffe, during the Daily Mail’s first week in 1896

The other challenge of the press and its agenda is the basic economics of newspaper publishing.

The cover price that readers pay barely covers the cost of a newspaper’s ink and paper, never mind salaries, overheads and distribution, so 70-80% of the revenue comes from advertising. It has long been an idiom that, “He who pays the piper, calls the tune.”

With the heavy spending financial and motoring sectors being such a rich gold vein for publishers, it was always unlikely that the press would be too critical of their unsustainable and irresponsible paymasters. Financial services spent £841m on advertising in 2011, with £210m or 25% going to the press. Motoring spent £547m on advertising; £170m or 31% to the press.

Financial services, oil, gas and mining industries are major investment sectors (47% of the FTSE 100) and a key part of motoring’s value chain (manufacture, loans, insurance, fuel), so again they remain free from the necessary scrutiny by our national press. They certainly weren’t going to hold these sectors to account in the lead up to the credit crisis of 2007. They need the advertising shillings more than ever.

“Climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats. We may not agree on the extent, but we certainly can’t afford the risk of inaction” – Rupert Murdoch

Really, Rupert? Really?

It is surprising that despite this clear and mostly accurate statement, Murdoch’s newspapers have done so much to provide a platform for sceptics and pollutocrats and done so much to mislead the public. This is set out in this excellent article here, which illustrates the strong climate change sceptic position of his titles. This is the same man that owns the odious Fox News, where executives encourage journalists to deny climate change and viewers are less informed than viewers of other channels.

Whatever Murdoch says for PR reasons, his overall national press record is depressing.

A University of Oxford study of the tabloid press, including The Sun [prop. R Murdoch], Daily Express, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror and their Sunday equivalents, covering the years 2000 to 2006, found that, “UK tabloid coverage significantly diverged from the scientific consensus that humans contribute to climate change. Moreover, there was no consistent increase in the percentage of accurate coverage throughout the period of analysis and across all tabloid newspapers, and these findings are not consistent with recent trends documented in United States and UK ‘prestige press’ or broadsheet newspaper reporting. Findings from interviews indicate that inaccurate reporting may be linked to the lack of specialist journalists in the tabloid press.”

A two-year study of media coverage of climate change feedback loops by the Journal of Public Understanding of Science found that, “Non-US news organisations, especially in the UK, are at the forefront of the discourse on climate feedback loops. Poor US press coverage on such climate thresholds might be understood not only as self-censorship, but as a ‘false negative’ error.”

A 2010 University of Liverpool Study study looked at “prominent, disruptive direct action around the climate change issue, in the context of comparable activity across a range of political groupings”, and found that “they garner significant but unflattering attention from [the conventional mass media], partly as a consequence of the persistent pressures and imperatives that drive conventional journalism.”

A 2011 University of Oxford/Reuters Institute study of newspapers in six countries, called Poles Apart, stated that, “Newspapers in the UK and the US have given far more column space to the voices of climate sceptics than the press in Brazil, France, India and China. More than 80% of the times that sceptical voices were included, they were in pieces in the UK and US press, according to the research.”

Newspapers and their ill-informed, unqualified columnists might not be able to change people’s mind on the big issue of climate change. Fifty-seven per cent believe it’s real and manmade (anthropogenic) and 30% think it’s real. Nevertheless, the daily dripping and equal billing of climate sceptical opinion over scientific facts can lead to the impression that the science remains unsettled, the risks of inaction inflated and the necessary corrective action costly and unnecessary.

“Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe” – Thomas Jefferson

A free press is a vital ingredient of any functioning democracy. However, can our press be described as genuinely free? It has been captured by a narrow clique of supremely wealthy men, owners of larger commercial media empires. In turn, these empires depend on the largesse of corporate executives, operating unsustainable enterprises, who distribute advertising dollars. Estimated to be worth £692 billion globally by 2015.

How do we maintain the freedom of the press but avoid billionaires misleading the public?

Next week, Leveson will make his recommendation on press regulation, to be self-regulated or underpinned by statute. Just as Milton, we are very nervous of government or political oversight, but nor are we confident that the press, or more importantly the people who run it, are acting responsibly regarding the gravest threat to our way of life.

We will explore this and other issues in our Guide to Responsible Media this December.

Our final word goes to a surprising source; Bill O’Reilly is a polemical fixture of Fox News and has strong views on almost everything. However, he takes a profoundly different view to many of his colleagues and political allies on climate change. In a 2010 discussion with Bill Maher, he made the point that “a cleaner planet is better for everyone”. (Video here – watch from around 9mins).

We agree Bill. We need a rapid move to low pollution, low-carbon energy and industry.

If only our press barons and their commentators would make the case for that.

Further reading:

How to be good in the ruthless world of advertising

James Murdoch told to resign from BSkyB by responsible investment campaigners

News Corporation and ethics – an oxymoron?

Church to engage in “board-level dialogue” over News Corporation investment

Simon Leadbetter is the founder and publisher of Blue & Green Tomorrow. He has held senior roles at Northcliffe, The Daily Telegraph, Santander, Barclaycard, AXA, Prudential and Fidelity. In 2004, he founded a marketing agency that worked amongst others with The Guardian, Vodafone, E.On and Liverpool Victoria. He sold this agency in 2006 and as Chief Marketing Officer for two VC-backed start-ups launched the online platform Cleantech Intelligence (which underpinned the The Guardian’s Cleantech 100) and StrategyEye Cleantech. Most recently, he was Marketing Director of Emap, the UK’s largest B2B publisher, and the founder of Blue & Green Communications Limited.


How Going Green Can Save A Company Money



going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable




sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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