Apr 28, 2008
Media coverage of climate change 'divergent from scientific consensus'
Coverage about global warming in UK tabloid newspapers has been significantly divergent from the scientific consensus that humans contribute to climate change. That's according to Max Boykoff and Maria Mansfield of the University of Oxford, UK, who studied newspapers from 2000 to 2006.
"This was surprising, because in other research on the UK broadsheet newspapers I've found that this coverage has been quite accurate," Boykoff told environmentalresearchweb. "We hope that this work will encourage tabloid newspapers to reflect further on the accuracy of their reporting on human contributions to climate change, particularly given their high readership in the UK publics. Contrarian comments in a column by Michael Hanlon in the Daily Mail or Jeremy Clarkson in The Sun may be off-the-cuff or playful at times, but they have a tremendous influence on how readership may understand climate change science and policy."
The team found that the Daily Mail was more divergent from the scientific consensus than other tabloid newspapers.
There were generally two main influences behind the tabloids' divergence. "First was reliance on the journalistic norm of balance, where roughly equal attention was placed the view that humans contribute to climate change, and that our contribution is negligible," said Boykoff. "I had found this journalistic norm as influential in other earlier work on US newspaper and television coverage of anthropogenic climate change."
And secondly, almost a third of the divergent coverage was attributed to 'contrarian' views that make claims that humans' role in climate change is negligible.
Tabloids have an important influence on public opinion in the UK as they have average daily circulations as much as ten times higher than many broadsheet newspapers.
"Assessments of UK media influence on science-policy interactions have tended to focus on the broadsheet or 'quality' press sources - the Guardian, Independent, Daily Telegraph, Financial Times and Times of London," said Boykoff. "However, we argue that these analyses have suffered from a blind spot in considerations, by overlooking what are called the 'tabloid press' - The Sun (and News of the World), Daily Mail (and Mail on Sunday), the Daily Express (and Sunday Express), and the Mirror (and Sunday Mirror)."
And readers of tabloids tend to come from different socio-economic backgrounds to broadsheet consumers, typically being more working class.
"While these segments of the population have been of secondary importance in previous science-policy and science-media-policy analyses, such examinations need to take on a more central role, as these citizens make up critical components of potential social movements and public pressure for improved climate policy action," said Boykoff.
Many media workers interviewed for the study highlighted the political and economic constraints they face in reporting climate change. "For example, with little specialist science training it was challenging to cover the intricacies of climate change while they were also covering a broad range of other news 'beats'," said Boykoff. "There remain few science and environment correspondents in the UK tabloid newspapers, and this has been a challenge for accurate climate change reporting."
Boykoff and Mansfield have also been studying how various climate change issues are framed in the UK tabloid press, and the tone of the coverage. "From this, I am examining how these factors influence considerations of market-based and regulatory interventions to grapple with ongoing environmental challenges," said Boykoff.
The researchers reported their work in the open-access journal Environmental Research Letters.