COP 28 Insight: Fabio Bertoni on Media Law and Environmental Narratives 

With Suzan Taha

In the backdrop of COP 28, the event where global leaders converge to address pressing environmental issues, LegalcommunityMENA had the privilege of catching up with Fabio Bertoni, a distinguished legal professional and General Counsel at The New Yorker. 

With a wealth of experience in media law, Bertoni offers unique insights into the evolving role of legal experts in navigating climate-related challenges within the media industry. This exclusive interview delves into Bertoni’s perspectives, drawing from his extensive background and his role as an educator, to explore the intersection of law, media, and environmental sustainability. 

As a seasoned legal professional with a background in publishing law, how do you perceive the role of legal experts evolving in the media industry concerning climate-related issues, especially amid the ongoing COP 28? 

Lawyers, and in-house lawyers, in particular, have an important role in advising their companies on risk, and helping to mitigate it. There is no business that is not being confronted by issues related to climate change and those risks will continue to increase, from powerful storms and floods, wildfires, draughts, and more. Obviously, there have been and will be pressure on supply chains, and costs of resources, to say nothing of the enormous human costs to our employees and customers. Lawyers are well-positioned to have a wide view, and also have a seat at the table to help companies and policy-makers effectively address these serious challenges. 

Drawing from your experience, how have your previous roles influenced your approach to legal challenges in the media sector, particularly in the context of environmental reporting and climate-related content? 

Climate concerns have been around since I’ve been involved in the media. I was a journalist before becoming a lawyer, and some of my earliest stories concerned climate issues. That was 30 years ago. They have only become more urgent since then. And while it is worth reporting on the debate regarding various proposed policy solutions, it is not worth presenting a debate about whether these effects are happening or whether humans are having an effect on the climate.  

It’s like debating whether the earth is flat. There are not two legitimate sides to that debate, and journalism that presents it as a live question is misleading. As a lawyer, it is my job to ensure that our reporting is fair and legally defensible, and while early in my career it may have felt necessary to present the views of climate change deniers in stories about the environment, that is no longer the case. Presenting those views as legitimate would be a disservice to our readers. 

In your current role as General Counsel at The New Yorker, how do you personally navigate the legal intricacies surrounding climate change coverage, and what unique considerations do you find in the media’s portrayal of environmental issues? 

There’s been a lot of good reporting, in our magazine and elsewhere, demonstrating conclusively that oil companies were privately aware of the risk of climate change for decades, while publicly questioning or denying it. While the oil companies have not necessarily been happy to have that information made public, that is the job of journalists. 

Even now, reporting has revealed that some of the proposed solutions to climate change have become big business, despite the fact that some of those solutions may not deliver all of the benefits that they promise. Of course, as always, any reporting exposing bad conduct by industry must be well-sourced and vetted, but it is important to publish truthful information. Media lawyers representing companies doing this reporting must be prepared for threats and challenges by sources who would rather avoid a public examination of their conduct. 

Beyond the legal aspects, how did your role influence your broader perspective on corporate responsibility and environmental sustainability in media organizations? 

The New Yorker is part of a global media company, Conde Nast, which takes its responsibility to operate sustainably very seriously. Obviously, the mission of The New Yorker includes bringing accurate information about climate issues and sustainability to our readers, but we also strive to do it in a way that minimizes our own impact, including reducing the energy used by our offices and the resources we consume in operating. 

Given your multifaceted experience, how do you personally approach the responsibility of media outlets in influencing public opinion and policy changes related to climate action, and how has this perspective shaped your work at The New Yorker? 

I think the media has an important role to play in continuing to report on the consequences of climate change, and the science surrounding it. It is critical, however, not to simply report stories of despair or impending doom, but also to report well-researched stories on practical policy proposals that would reduce or delay the most severe changes. Reading some of the news, it’s easy to say “it’s too late.” But the fact is, there’s important work to be done to make the consequences of climate change less dire, and it’s the media’s job to report on those, too. 

In the midst of COP 28, what personal initiatives or practices do you believe are crucial for legal professionals to adopt, both in their individual capacities and as representatives of media organizations, to contribute meaningfully to sustainability and climate awareness? 

It is important for legal professionals to understand that the climate will continue to change and present significant challenges. As the global experience with Covid taught us, companies need to remain flexible, and consider mitigation strategies in addition to prevention strategies.  

Often, this means adding redundancies to critical processes, and preparing to quickly temporarily shift production to alternate locations if the usual one becomes unavailable. Legal departments have a critical role to play in that. They also have a role to play in lobbying government to build the sustainable infrastructure that is critical for all businesses and their employees to function, live, and stay safe. 

About Fabio Bertoni

Fabio Bertoni is currently serving as the General Counsel at The New Yorker, bringing a wealth of legal expertise to the renowned publication. As an Adjunct Professor of Law at Fordham Law School and an Adjunct Instructor at NYU School of Professional Studies, he imparts his knowledge in media law drafting and publishing and internet law.  

With previous roles as Assistant General Counsel at Harper Collins Publishers and Deputy General Counsel at ALM Media, Bertoni has a strong background in the legal intricacies of the media industry. His legal journey also includes roles as an Associate at Hughes, Hubbard & Reed, and Squaddron, Ellenoff, Plesent & Sheinfeld. Beyond the legal realm, Bertoni has contributed to the field as an Assistant Producer at WNYC Radio.  

He holds a JD from Columbia University School of Law, an MS from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and a summa cum laude BA in English from Hunter College. He is admitted to the New York State Bar and the U.S. District Courts, SDNY and EDNY, and actively engages with professional associations such as the Association of the Bar of the City of New York and the New York State Bar Association. 

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