Hundreds of climate activists gathered outside the CNN studios

Hundreds of climate activists gathered outside the CNN studios on September 4, 2019.

(Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

'No Excuse': News Outlets Backed by Big Oil Ads Quiet After UN Chief's Call for Ban

An end to fossil fuel advertising on news networks and websites would "hit oil companies where it hurts," said one expert.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres was unequivocal this week in his call for a global ban on fossil fuel advertising—but while outlets like The Washington Post and The New York Times covered his remarks on Wednesday, the corporate media showed little sign of abiding by Guterres demand that they stop helping oil and gas companies to "greenwash" their climate records and their effects on the planet.

The Guardianreported Friday that it received few responses when it reached out to 11 major news organizations and tech companies including Politico and Meta, with a spokesperson for Politico defending its practice of running fossil fuel advertisements alongside news coverage.

"Advertisers are prominently identified, and a clear distinction between news and ads, including sponsored content, is maintained across Politico's platforms," said the spokesperson. "No advertiser or advertisement sways editorial decisions or news judgment."

But as Harvard climate disinformation expert Naomi Oreskes told The Guardian, regardless of their ad policies, outlets like Politico, CNN, and others are likely clouding their audiences' understanding of the gravity of the climate emergency by reporting on the issue—only to then display ads by the companies that are responsible for heating the planet.

"No one is saying this is easy," Oreskes said. "But we need to face the hard stuff."

The Australian grassroots group Climate Council noted on Friday that since Guterres' speech, Channel 10 has continued airing "gas lobby ads like a news bulletin."

As The Guardianreported, an Australian Senate inquiry into greenwashing found that since March, the network has aired segments sponsored by gas industry lobbyists that were "made to look exactly the same as the headlines and using the 10 News sets."

"Big fossil fuel corporations in Australia have become expert greenwashers, gaslighting Australians and cashing in on the climate crisis," said Climate Council.

In his comments, Guterres urged public relations and advertising firms as well as news networks to view fossil fuel advertising the same way they have come to see tobacco ads, which some publications have stopped running in recent years due to the products' human health harms.

Jamie Henn, director of Fossil Free Media, pointed out that the Times said in 1999 that it would no longer display cigarette ads because editors didn't "want to expose our readers to advertising that may be harmful to their health."

Henn implored the Times: "Tell me the same logic doesn't apply to fossil fuels."

The Guardian, Vox, and Le Monde are among global news publications that have stopped selling ad space to oil, coal, and gas companies in recent years. Amsterdam became the first city in the world to ban fossil fuel ads, and France enacted a ban on certain ads for the industry in 2022, while the United Kingdom did the same for misleading environmental terminology in ads this year.

Similar actions globally would "hit oil companies where it hurts," University of Miami professor Geoffrey Supran told The Guardian.

"If Big Oil loses its ability to lobby the public," he said, "its political power to delay climate action will be severely diminished."

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