1080 debate: Media should focus on science, not controversy - experts

News organisations need to change the way they report on science-based issues, particularly in the age of the Facebook newsfeed, according to two Kiwi authors.

Dave Hansford, author of Protecting Paradise: 1080 and the Fight to Save New Zealand's Wildlife, told Newshub Nation social media has "given wings" to misinformation.

"Since the advent of social media, where anybody can sit down and write anything on their computer and put that out into the public sphere, it's given a lot of this sentiment - and frankly hysteria - it's given it wings."

Dave Hansford speaking to Newshub Nation.
Dave Hansford speaking to Newshub Nation. Photo credit: Newshub Nation.

Dr Jess Berentson-Shaw, author of A Matter of Fact, described it as a case of emotion over evidence.

"When we need to weigh up all of the costs and benefits [of an issue], if somebody engages our fears, we immediately withdraw from those complex thoughts in our minds and just go to the simplest solution," she said.

"In the case of anti-1080, the simplest solution that's being offered is just 'don't use 1080'."

Mr Hansford said science reporting by traditional media still has a long way to go in ensuring complex issues are properly communicated to the public.

"The media has a huge responsibility in helping people understand issues like 1080," he said.

"Unfortunately 1080, like many of these science-based issues, and climate change is another, it doesn't come in simple terms of right and wrong or black and white.

"We need to get better at making sure that the stuff that we say in media, is actually qualified and that we stop presenting these black and white arguments.

"Unfortunately you still have a lot of thoroughly bad reporting, of not just 1080 but many science-based issues. We've lost two decades that we could have been taking meaningful action on climate change because media preferred to focus on the controversy instead of the science."

Dr Jess Berentson-Shaw speaking to Newshub Nation.
Dr Jess Berentson-Shaw speaking to Newshub Nation. Photo credit: Newshub Nation.

Dr Shaw agreed, saying media shouldn't focus on "vocal minorities".

"Most New Zealanders are actually relatively comfortable with the idea that there are risks and benefits to pest control... We need to actually just keep talking about that story as opposed to amplifying and jumping to the stories of people who are selling misinformation."

Newshub Nation.

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