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'A Watershed Moment': The Guardian Applauded for Banning Ads From Fossil Fuel Companies

"Who's next?" asked climate campaigners, urging all media outlets and other institutions to cut ties with planet-wrecking polluters.

Anna Taylor, U.K. leader of the youth climate strikes, and Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg

Anna Taylor, U.K. leader of the youth climate strikes, and Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg hold a conference during the Extinction Rebellion protests in London on April 22, 2019. (Photo: Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Climate advocacy groups and campaigners celebrated after the Guardian announced Wednesday that it "will no longer accept accept advertising from oil and gas companies," which applies "to any business primarily involved in extracting fossil fuels, including many of the world's largest polluters," and urged media outlets across the globe to follow the British daily newspaper's lead.

"Other media outlets, arts and sports organizations must now follow suit and end fossil fuel company advertising and sponsorship."
—Mel Evans, Greenpeace U.K.

Welcoming the move in a statement, Greenpeace U.K. senior climate campaigner Mel Evans said that "for too long fossil fuel giants like BP and Shell, who are causing our climate emergency, have been able to get away with greenwash advertising while investing 97% of their business in oil and gas."

"This is a watershed moment, and the Guardian must be applauded for this bold move to end the legitimacy of fossil fuels," Evans said. "Oil and gas firms now find themselves alongside tobacco companies as businesses that threaten the health and well-being of everyone on this planet."

"For BP the disconnect has been the most glaring: spending millions on lobbying to undermine environmental laws, then claiming to be progressive on climate in ads and on social media," she added. "Other media outlets, arts and sports organizations must now follow suit and end fossil fuel company advertising and sponsorship."

The Guardian's decision comes after Greenpeace U.K. launched a petition last year—now signed by more than 125,000 people—calling for an end to all oil advertising on billboards, magazines, television, and online. The local group circulated its petition on Twitter while Greenpeace's global account asked, "Who's next?"

The environmental advocacy group 350.org Europe also praised the newspaper, tweeting: "Big props to [the Guardian] for stepping up and finally doing the right thing."

"Time is long overdue for all: media outlets, museums, universities, banks, governments, and everyone else to CUT ALL TIES with the fossil fuel industry," the group added.

Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, whose climate activism spurred the global Fridays for Future school strike movement, called the decision "a good start" and asked, "Who will take this further?"

By the Guardian's own account, it is "the first major global news organization to institute an outright ban" of this nature. However, it does follow in the footsteps of the Swedish daily newspaper Dagens ETC, which announced in September 2019 that "from now on we will reject all fossil-fuel ads."

Dagens ETC editor-in-chief Andreas Gustavsson said at the time that "this is in the interests of our subscribers, our reporters, our climate friendly advertisers, and our credibility." While recognizing that "a restrictive advertising policy means we take a financial hit," Gustavsson encouraged other media outlets to adopt similar standards.

Guardian Media Group (GMG) acting chief executive Anna Bateson and chief revenue officer Hamish Nicklin explained the reasoning behind the new policy in a joint statement Wednesday.

"Our decision is based on the decades-long efforts by many in that industry to prevent meaningful climate action by governments around the world," Bateson and Nicklin said. Calling human-caused global heating the "most important challenge of our times," they pointed to their newspaper's reporting on how the fossil fuel industry has spent decades sowing public doubt about climate science.

"Our decision is based on the decades-long efforts by many in that industry to prevent meaningful climate action by governments around the world."
—Anna Bateson and Hamish Nicklin, GMG

Acknowledging the expected impact of the decision, they said that "the funding model for the Guardian—like most high-quality media companies—is going to remain precarious over the next few years. It's true that rejecting some adverts might make our lives a tiny bit tougher in the very short term. Nonetheless, we believe building a more purposeful organization and remaining financially sustainable have to go hand in hand."

As of now, the new policy doesn't extend to other companies and industries that contribute to global heating, such as travel and vehicles. Bateson and Nicklin said that "stopping those ads would be a severe financial blow, and might force us to make significant cuts to Guardian and Observer journalism around the world." The Observer, a sister paper to the Guardian that's also owned by GMG, is published on Sundays.

Like the climate campaigners, Bateson and Nicklin expressed hope that others will be inspired to take similar steps in cutting ties with major polluters.

"We believe many brands will agree with our stance, and might be persuaded to choose to work with us more as a result," they said. "The future of advertising lies in building trust with consumers, and demonstrating a real commitment to values and purpose."

Media organizations aren't the only institutions under mounting pressure to end financial relationships with major polluters. As Common Dreams reported earlier this month, global advocacy groups launched Stop the Money Pipeline, a campaign demanding that banks, insurance companies, and asset managers stop funding, insuring, and investing in climate destruction.

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