The Guardian bans fossil fuel advertising

Display in the front window of the Guardian Newspaper
FlickrMichael Brunton-Spall

The Guardian last week became the first major global news organization to announce a ban on advertising from oil and gas companies, despite the fossil fuels industry's role as a major advertiser and the media outlet admitting it faces a "precarious" financial future.

The newspaper said the block on advertising amounts to an "outright ban" on the media group taking money from companies that extract fossil fuels. It follows high profile efforts from the company to ramp up reporting on the climate emergency and cut its own greenhouse gas emissions, including recent changes to its style guide that has seen it refer to climate change as the 'climate crisis' or 'emergency.'

"Our decision is based on the decades-long efforts by many in that industry to prevent meaningful climate action by governments around the world," the company's acting chief executive Anna Bateson and chief revenue officer Hamish Nicklin said in a joint statement.

Oil and gas firms have been subject to particular criticism from green groups for using paid adverts to highlight their green energy projects, despite the vast majority of their capital investment and revenues still coming from fossil fuels. Campaigners say such adverts give the public a false impression of the fossil fuel industry's role in the climate crisis.

A host of cultural institutions have faced vocal calls to sever ties with oil majors, but last week's announcement makes the Guardian the first global media brand to make such a move.

The Guardian returned to profitability in recent years following the successful launch of a new membership model. However, the company receives up to 40 percent of its revenues from advertising and it warned the move to ban fossil fuel advertising would have financial implications for the company.

"The funding model for the Guardian — like most high-quality media companies — is going to remain precarious over the next few years," Bateson and Nicklin said. "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."

The duo added that going further and rejecting advertising from high polluting industries such as aviation — which many environmentalists have also campaigned for — would not be financially sustainable for the Guardian.

"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," they said.

Nevertheless, the move gained immediate praise from environmentalists. Mel Evans, senior climate campaigner for Greenpeace UK, described it as a "watershed moment."

"The Guardian must be applauded for this bold move to end the legitimacy of fossil fuels," she 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." She called on other media outlets, arts and sports organizations to immediately follow suit.

In contrast, the oil and gas industry and other carbon intensive sectors are likely to be concerned at the growing success of campaigns to strip them of their 'social license.' A number of leading figures within the industry have warned in recent years that the sector is at risk of being villified by the wider public. They point out that some leading oil majors are publicly supportive of decarbonization goals and are taking steps to increase investment in clean technologies and infrastructure, such as renewables, biofuels, carbon capture, hydrogen and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

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