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Revealed: the BBC guide for covering climate change

10 August 2021

7:48 AM

10 August 2021

7:48 AM

Climate change is once again dominating the news agenda. A report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that even if emissions are cut rapidly, the effects of global warming will be felt across the world. The report – which Boris Johnson has declared sobering reading – leads the news today, with the BBC dedicating seven stories on its homepage today to climate change.

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So just as well then that BBC staffers were recently treated to an internal audience research briefing telling them how best to convey messages about climate change to different audiences.

The briefing – which one insider described as being more reminiscent of ‘a campaigning organisation’ – identifies seven different groups of viewers and how to appeal to them: ‘progressive activists,’ ‘civic pragmatists,’ ‘established liberals,’ ‘loyal nationals,’ ‘disengaged battlers,’ ‘backbone conservatives,’ and ‘disengaged traditionalists.’

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Explaining how ‘we need to talk to them in different ways’, the briefing ranks these groups on an axis of security, health and wealth on a diversity scale based on ‘closeness’ to your neighbour. How such metrics are assessed is not revealed in the presentation.

For ‘loyal nationals’ who are working class and authoritarian ‘boomers’ who feel patriotic but ‘threatened’, the guidance orders staff to ‘build on climate concern without feeding fears of climate migration.’ This group is the only one listed as voting for Brexit.

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Meanwhile, journalists are instructed to ‘build trust’ with ‘disengaged battlers’ by showing how ‘the benefits’ of climate action will help ‘people like them.’ For this ‘fatalistic, isolated, urban group’ a ‘middle class environmentalist lifestyle’ is judged to be an ineffective way of engagement.

Both the ‘disengaged traditionalists’ and ‘backbone conservatives’ are listed in the research alongside the euphemistic label ‘British pride.’ The former group can apparently be won over by changing the messenger and a focus on ‘national pride in practical achievements’, while the latter – sceptical, male and working class – are allegedly susceptible to messages which talk about ‘manufacturing fit for purpose.’

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As Boris Johnson faces resistance from his own MPs over his focus on the green agenda and the cost of the government’s Net Zero target ahead of the COP26 climate summit in November, perhaps he can use the BBC guide to separate the ‘loyal nationals’ from the ‘backbone’ conservatives?
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