Environmentalists have been celebrating the proposed ban on the sale of products containing microbeads from 2017, which was announced by DEFRA on 3rd September. The campaign to ban microbeads has been several years in the making.
In a bold move, the Daily Mail appears to have taken credit for the success. It suggests that its ‘hard-hitting’ Ban the Beads campaign, which was launched just ten days ago, is a major reason for DEFRA’s announcement. The move is likely to irritate environmentalists who have been campaigning about this issue for several years, and has been met with a certain amount of incredulity online.
In a lengthy article, entitled ‘Banished! Victory for the Mail in just NINE days as ministers pledge to outlaw toxic microbeads – in toothpaste, shower gel and facial scrubs – that are poisoning our sea’, Daily Mail journalists Jason Groves and Sean Poulter set out how the newspaper has pushed through a common sense policy which was being held up by the EU, which has ‘dragged its feet on implementing a legal ban’.
The article states: ‘In a major victory for the Daily Mail’s ‘Ban the Beads Now’ campaign launched only nine days ago, Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom pledged to ‘bring an end to these harmful plastics clogging up our oceans’’ … ‘In a hard-hitting campaign, the Mail has highlighted the way in which cosmetic firms have used the tiny plastic beads, which are often invisible to the naked eye, to add sheen to their products or improve their effectiveness at exfoliation.’
In striking such a self-congratulatory tone, the Daily Mail is certainly detracting attention from major campaigners who have put years of work into the microbead campaign (though it should be said that the article quotes heavily from Greenpeace and DEFRA). But would it be wrong to dismiss the Daily Mail’s claims out of hand? While the paper’s tone is certainly leaving a sour taste in the mouth of many environmentalists, there can be no denying that the paper’s stance on microbeads is very welcome, and there may well be an element of truth in the assertions made in the article as to the paper’s power to influence a Conservative government’s policy. Incidentally, the paper also claims considerable credit for the plastic bag charge, on which it ran a similar campaign last year.
It is also worth noting that environmentalists tend to be left-leaning in their politics, while readers of the Daily Mail tend to be more right-leaning. The Daily Mail is ideally placed, then, to introduce environmental issues to an audience that may not otherwise pick up on them.
However, the article’s claims are impossible to prove. There can be no denying that the Daily Mail is a powerful publication with a large readership. But this quotation from the article shows that, perhaps, the Daily Mail is slightly exaggerating its influence:
‘She [Leadsom] told the Mail: ‘Most people would be dismayed to know the face scrub or toothpaste they use was causing irreversible damage to the environment, with billions of indigestible plastic pieces poisoning sea creatures.’
By stating that ‘she told the Mail’, the article implies that the paper has been in conversation with Leadsom herself. The above quotation from Leadsom is actually far from exclusive – it is available as part of DEFRA’s press release, available here, to anyone who bothers to read DEFRA’s publicly available press releases. This is common editorial practice (all newspapers do it), but it is, nevertheless, worth highlighting.
The internet seems, on balance, unimpressed by the Daily Mail’s claims. Below the line comments on the article itself (of which there are about 400 at the time of writing, and where one would expect a significant degree of support) are roughly 50/50 positive to negative and are typified by this thread:
Cchristy: ‘Although I applaud the DM for picking up the baton (obviously not as much as you applaud yourselves), you HARDLY started the race, it began several years ago.’
Jenson PB: ‘but ended when the dm got hold of it,shows noone listens to the left’.
Whatever the validity of the Mail’s unprovable assertions, there can be no denying that support from a major daily newspaper is a major asset in any environmental campaign. But the cost, loss of editorial control, can be very high indeed.
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