Liberal Media & How It Works: Coal is Bad, Except When it’s Socialist and Subsidised.

The recent recession in Europe, and the cuts imposed on those countries who seemed to believe governments could just spend their way to a brighter future, have shone light on an interesting aspect of liberal media and how it works. This is the Janus-faced nature of their arguments.

Take coal for example. We are told time and time and time again by the liberal media that coal is an evil fossil fuel that kills people through pollution, heats up the atmosphere by Co2 emissions, and whose existence is only kept going by shadowy lobbying of government by “big coal”. Capitalism and big coal, it is strongly implied, are destroying the environment and preventing the renewable revolution that would lead to millions of “clean energy” jobs.

For example, here’s what The Guardian had to say about those banks who financed coal power plants. These evil, capitalist banks were, the article quoted “killer banks” that were destroying the planet:

Barclays, the Royal Bank of Scotland and HSBC are among the top banks that have lent billions of euros to the coal sector – despite their much-vaunted environmental credentials, a new investigation has found

Financing coal is controversial, because it is the dirtiest fossil fuel and responsible for billions of tonnes of emissions of carbon dioxide globally, as well as other pollutants such as soot particles and mercury.

The Guardian: Coal Study Names Top 20 ‘Climate Killer’ Banks.

So, according to the liberal media, coal is evil, destroying the planet, and any moves to cut coal production would be welcomed and celebrated right?

Well, not quite. When the EPA, under the Obama administration makes it “nearly impossible” to build new coal power plants, that’s a good thing according  to The Guardian. But look at the response when Spain’s new centre-right administration recently announced cuts to subsidies for coal production in a socialist area of Spain. When a right wing administration wants to cut subsidies for coal production, the outcome, apparently, is very different:

Ana Sánchez is on her knees, saying goodbye to her three-year-old goddaughter Marina. Sánchez has worked as a miner for nine years, at the María Luisa mine. She is one of four women from the Asturian valley who will join the march. “I have to do this for my unborn granddaughter. I will do whatever it takes.”

Pepe Pérez, 45, a miner from Cerredo, adds: “The cuts approved by the conservative government would suffocate mining to the point that it would disappear. These subsidies have already been approved, so it is like we are being robbed. They want us to starve, and we cannot allow it. We must fight.”

The Guardian: Spain’s Desperate Miners Gather for a Protest March on the Capital.

Spot the difference? When it’s a right-wing administration cutting subsidies for coal production, we hear about “unborn granddaughters”, starving villagers, pregnant women marching on the capital to protest against what are described as “savage cuts”.  There are heart-rending accounts of elderly villagers weeping as their families go off to protest against the possible loss of coal production in the area. This was just one of a number of articles bemoaning the plight of the coal miners in Spain, and supporting their protests in highly emotional terms.

So. I hope this helps to explain how liberal media works, and helps clarify the party position on coal: when it’s affecting Republican voters in places like West Virginia, then it’s an evil fossil fuel that is being corruptly sanctioned by big money interests. It must be stamped out. But when it affects socialist voting areas of Europe, and it’s a right-wing administration cutting subsidies, then pity the unborn grandchildren, the weeping elderly and the heroic miners who will “starve” on the streets because those evil capitalists won’t fund coal.

I hope that’s all perfectly clear now.

10 responses to “Liberal Media & How It Works: Coal is Bad, Except When it’s Socialist and Subsidised.

  1. Cedric Knight

    The resolution of your paradox is simple. If you label everyone who disagrees with you a “liberal”, you shouldn’t be surprised that some liberals have different priorities from other liberals. A polarised view of the world is usually misleading, most obviously when it tries to reduce things to a single left-right dimension.

    Are you saying the _Guardian_ should not cover major industrial disputes in Europe objectively? Because many columnists are concerned with stopping fossil fuel subsidies, it should ignore a major story? I have no affiliation with that publication (other than buying it for the review section), but think their general idea of trying to separate fact and opinion is a good one.

    I think it could be a difficult question for green socialists: would they support the crushing of the 1984 miners’ strike? Or would they rather see an economic transition from extractive industries to greater investment in more ecologically-friendly industries, whether in the Rhondda or Oviedo? The latter would seem the logical way out.

    • Cedric –

      No, not at all. My point was not that the Guardian was hypocritical for covering the dispute – of course it should do. My point was in the main regarding the clear and substantial bias in the language. It’s one thing to cover the dispute in Spain, but when they cover coal normally they talk about the pollution and the supposed big money interests and their lackeys in governments behind it. Suddenly, the angle in this story switches to maudlin and heart-tugging personal portraits of the people who mine coal and their families and villages. The elderly, the women and children, and even the unborn. Please don’t insult my intelligence by claiming this is merely reportage. It’s presenting an emotional and biased account completely at odds from their normal coverage.

      • Cedric Knight

        OK, the Asturias article (classified as a news item) didn’t strike me as biased, because it is mostly direct speech. Also, to me there is no contradiction between something being simultaneously objective and emotive; not even if it is objective, emotive and challenging to my views, as that article is. Now I’ve read the comments, I observe that several people do read it as biased and accuse the article, or the interviewees, of “industrial romanticism”. This may be a natural a desire to simplify by dividing arguments into “for something” or “against something” that can confuse fact and value.

        I think what you’re seeing is genuine complexity in the real world, not some deliberate favouring by journalists of leftist pro-coal interests over rightist pro-coal interests. In Spain, there are people on the streets being beaten by police; whereas in West Virginia it’s politicians with financial connections to “Big Coal”. You can say that’s just the media, but does it really not reflect reality? Of course deindustrialisation, in parallel with increased concentration of wealth, has caused massive social hardship in WV and there are human interest stories to cover there. (It’s rarely reported in the UK, but something on the BBC yesterday implies WV turned Republican largely because of industrial decline – would that be fair?) My interest is how you resolve the moral dilemma for someone who wants neither subsidised coal nor unemployment; one positive proposal is repurposing most of the subsidy to regional support of industry generally. Some of the comments on the article:

        “I see most comments supporting the miners plight. On a human level I, too, feel for them. I must though add that I… refuse to subsidise something that does not work. Be it a mine or a bank.” “just because an industry doesn’t have a viable future on the same footing isn’t an excuse to abandon people” “Any shift toward more ‘environmentally friendly’ industrial sectors need not come at the expense of entire communities and workers [sic] livelihoods.” “One element of the Asturian case which has been somewhat ignored in media coverage, are the negotiations between unions and government which took place prior to the government declaring the cuts to subsidies. There was support among unions and the workforce to accept cuts to the coal mining sector so long as the Spanish government created large schemes of professional retraining, and created new areas of employment for all those affected.” “Very few of these miners and their families have ‘a romantic attachment to coal’ and few would complain if all who work the mines are offered comprehensive retraining to work in sustainable energy generation, with guaranteed secure jobs at union rates of pay at the end.”

        So what’s ignited the political conflict in Asturias is really “austerity”, not the coal subsidy. You might also find the same in West Virginia.

      • That’s fair comment and i agree that the article is discussing one aspect of an issue which doesn’t necessarily invalidate discussion of other aspects.

  2. Guardian readers lacking a coherent world view? Tell me it ain’t so!

    Especially for your swathes of Guardian readin’ acolytes :^)

    […] Accordingly, many have concluded that coal — in an era of solar, wind, and natural gas — has finally displaced itself due to its problematic extraction, distant transportation, and overall costs. Is coal finally going away as an energy source?

    Not a chance. […]

  3. Interesting that the comments about “fossil fuel subsidies” miss a couple of points.

    Firstly, when those coal mines in Asturia were being built / redeveloped (thanks to Spanish & EU subsidies), the UK Selby coal field, in which the UK Taxpayer had invested £1½ Billion before privatisation and which was producing around 10 Million tonnes of good coal a year, at a fifth of the production costs in Spain, was being closed down.

    Secondly, those naughty “fossil fuel subsidies” here in the UK, comprise of the fact that electricity is VAT rated at 5% instead of 20%. So ruinable energy gets exactly the same “subsidy” (plus a huge raft of others). And if the whirligigs produced more than a derisory amount of electricity they’d get more “subsidy” cash, too!

    I might add that loads of stuff, from books and kids’ shoes to Jaffa Cakes and cremations are even more “subsidised”, at zero% VAT.

    Don’t expect the Grauniad to point out any of that!

    • Great point, and very relevant: it’s risible the way that some people claim “fossil fuels” are subsidised . They’re not. Energy of all types is just taxed at a lower rate for obvious reasons (the elderly, single mums, etc, shouldn’t have to pay a small fortune to heat their home).

  4. I think that Cedric is wrong. People have the right to expect a little logical consistency from the libz at the Guardian. If the Guardian got their wish of killing these “extractive” energy industries a heck of a lot more people would be displaced.

    As far as the theme of the articlet it is very acurate. Remember when all the libz hated GM back when they were an actual profitable business and not a welfare case? Reagan said something about if it runs tax it to death and once it no longer runs subsidize it.

  5. “Republican voters in places like West Virginia …”? West Virginia was pretty much a Democratic stronghold until recently, and even now Democrats control the state government. However, this may be changing, perhaps for a reason pointed out in Wikipedia: “The most consistent support for Democrats is found in the coal fields of southern West Virginia …”.

  6. Justa Joe | July 18, 2012 at 2:04 pm
    “People have the right to expect a little logical consistency from the libz at the Guardian. If the Guardian got their wish of killing these “extractive” energy industries a heck of a lot more people would be displaced.”

    Justa Joe, if the Grauniad would get their wish granted of killing coal and oil and gas – and nuclear; there would not be enough energy to even start producing solar panels and wind turbines, and the hacks of the Guardian would work the fields like the rest of us.

    PETA would make sure we don’t re-introduce beasts of burden. So it’s agriculture for all in a classless society, and the New Man will be created.

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