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How come in a world of 24 hour news and media overkill, the really important stuff so often gets pushed aside? Barbara Panvel ponders one of the curiosities of the modern age.

Last week two people living in Birmingham asked me two very different questions.

The first person wondered why there was such indignation about the sailors captured and held in Iran, who are in good health and spirits - unlike those prisoners held by our allies who for years have been shackled, confined, hooded and mistreated.

The second asked why so much time and energy was being given to arguing whether climate change is due to human activity instead of taking measures to address it.

Both issues are being highlighted by the media which is financially dependent on corporate advertising, not income from readers - a very unhealthy state of affairs. It is also dependent on access to government briefings.

Ivor Gaber, an experienced journalist writing in the British Journalism Review, describes a “laundering” process: a piece of good news is found for release at the same time as bad news; if the technique is well practised, the timing and presentation of the good news will send the bad news to the inside pages, and their broadcasting equivalent.

According to Professor Gaber, reporters can be excluded from sources of information, bullied and intimidated. Dealing with Labour’s media machine the political journalist has two options: accept the line, the spokesperson, the story and all will be well — if not, interview bids are turned down and access to breaking stories denied.

The political reasons for dwelling on the sailors’ experiences are obvious but why the emphasis on debating the reasons for climate instability?

Those working as parliamentary lobbyists for powerful corporations know that their masters will benefit from distracting the general public’s attention from undisputed oil industry figures showing that oil production will peak quite soon. Depending on source the dates given range from 2010 to 2030.

The measures to minimise oil and gas use which will then have to be adopted are the same as those advocated for addressing climate change.

Drowning out the peak oil issue by focussing on the climate change debate will give a few more years of maximum profit - no matter at what cost to future generations.

In 2004, environmentalist Mayer Hillman, author of 'How we can save the planet' (Penguin, 2004), saw a blind commitment to a burgeoning economy frustrating attempts to protect the global environment and a mass media "complicit in this frightening state of denial."

Superficial and inadequate measures to reduce carbon emissions and reverse unsustainable economic growth are now on the political/media agenda - more than twenty years after the most perceptive thinkers revealed the nature of the problem and offered solutions.

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