Comment: Giving environmental activists the platform they deserve

| 28th September 2018
Fracking protestors and police

Police lean over fracking protestors

Protesting against fracking in the UK is now an imprisonable offence. Without the independent media, no-one would have been there to document this seismic shift in the criminalisation of environmental activism.

It is illustrative of a broader problem facing environmental journalism in the UK and elsewhere that the burden for documenting this fell on those who often do their work for little money – or sometimes no pay at all.

Last week, three environmental activists became the first people to be sent to jail for protesting against fracking. Their crime? Boarding some lorries heading for a nearby frack pad in Lancashire.

The sentencing represented a step-change in the battle between the local community and the fracking company, Cuadrilla Resources, which has been getting gradually more fraught over the past two years.

It also fits with a worrying trend of criminalising environmental protest in western democracies – from police violence against the Sioux at Standing Rock protesting against the Dakota Access pipeline in the US, to the forcible removal of anti-coal protestors from the Hambacher forest in Germany, and private security firms undertaking deep Facebook surveillance of fracking protestors in the UK.

Environmental protest

Given the stakes, how many mainstream journalists do you think were at the Lancashire fracking site the day of the now infamous action, which came in the middle of a month-long effort to draw attention to the plight of the people of Little Plumpton? None. Not one.

Fortunately, the media outlet I edit, DeSmog UK, and a handful of other independent journalists, were on hand to document, record, and photograph it all. Without these smaller, independent, outlets (and platforms like The Ecologist willing to publish the material), we wouldn’t have a record of the day protesting against fracking became a jailable offence in the UK.

It is illustrative of a broader problem facing environmental journalism in the UK and elsewhere that the burden for documenting this fell on those who often do their work for little money – or sometimes no pay at all.

How many times have you read a story about an environmental protest that seems to go out of its way to find the next Swampy, and then puts their quote next to a polished press release from a fracking or oil and gas company?

These articles, often from good journalists bound to their desks by circumstance, make it seem like it’s always just Greenpeace versus a legitimate business. In my experience, that is almost never the real story.

Trained professionals

Quality journalism on the UK’s vibrant activist scene requires sending reporters into the field to meet and get to know real local people with genuine concerns. Concerns that often get lost in mainstream news coverage.

And that’s exactly what DeSmog UK does. We’ve reported from the frontlines of some of the UK’s most significant fossil fuel resistances - from mine shutdowns, to anti-fracking protests, and coal extraction resistances.

It’s not ‘us’ versus ‘them’; independent media and the mainstream press can function as part of a happy reporting ecosystem. But we’ve found that when independent media is at the vanguard, giving activist voices a platform, the mainstream press is more comfortable at approaching and including them – and subsequently painting a more accurate picture of local concerns around fossil fuel extraction.

But embedding a reporter even for a few days is expensive – DeSmog UK’s most recent reports cost around £1,000 to produce. And communities across the UK are facing more of these threats than ever, whether it’s Cuadrilla Resources in Lancashire, INEOS in Scotland, or UK Oil and Gas in Sussex and Surrey.

Our reporters are not activists, but they understand activism. They are also trained professionals, and deserve to get paid.

With your help, we can send more reporters to more locations to do more reporting. In the process, we can act as a counterweight to media narratives that paint activists as outsiders - telling the real story of local people deeply concerned about the impact fossil fuel extraction has on their community.

This Author

Mat Hope is editor of DeSmog UK. The news website is crowdfunding on Indiegogo. Please donate what you can to keep their journalists reporting from the frontline of environmental activism.

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