"The type of sceptics who question whether global temperatures are warming are almost exclusively found in the US and UK newspapers, and sceptics who challenge the need for robust action to combat climate change also have a much stronger presence in the media of the same two countries," James Painter of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford told environmentalresearchweb.

Painter and colleague Teresa Ashe from the University of London looked at the coverage given to three types of sceptic (as defined by Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research) – trend sceptics, who deny that temperatures are warming, attribution sceptics, who accept the warming trend but either question man's contribution or say that the causes are too uncertain, and impact sceptics, who accept that climate change is happening and is caused by man but say that the impacts may be benign or beneficial, or that the models are not robust enough, and/or question the need for strong regulatory policies or interventions.

"Often sceptical voices are included in articles in the news pages of right-leaning newspapers like the Wall Street Journal or the Daily/Sunday Telegraph but are 'balanced' with the voices of mainstream climate scientists," said Painter. "But the uncontested sceptical voices are much louder in the opinion pages of these newspapers. There were very few such opinion pieces in the left-leaning media like the Guardian, New York Times and Le Monde. This feeds into the whole debate as to why climate scepticism (even about the science, not just the policy implications) appears to be much more of a right-wing phenomenon."

Painter and Ashe examined the media for a three-month period from November 2009 to February 2010 that included the "Climategate" email release from the University of East Anglia, UK. Their second study period covered February, March and April 2007, and the launch of the first two reports from the IPCC's fourth assessment. The team felt that the first period was likely to show a strong presence of sceptical voices – as well as Climategate, it covered the Copenhagen summit, controversies about errors in IPCC reports, a cold winter in the northern hemisphere and the formation of a sceptical lobby group in the UK – whilst the second period would mainly concern orthodox climate-change science.

"There has been a lot of research done on how climate-sceptic groups organize themselves in the US and gain a notable presence in the media there, but nothing like as much done outside of the US," said Painter. "We wanted to see how much the strong presence of sceptics in the US print media was replicated in other countries. So we included not just another Anglophone country (the UK), but three major developing countries (Brazil, China and India), and one in continental Europe (France)."

The team picked a right-leaning and left-leaning paper from each country, apart from in China where they chose a leading governmental paper and a more "popular"publication. The newspapers studied were (with the left-leaning/more popular Chinese paper first): Folha de São Paulo and Estado de São Paulo in Brazil, People's Daily and Beijing Evening News in China, Le Monde and Le Figaro in France, The Hindu and Times of India in India, the Guardian / Observer and the Daily / Sunday Telegraph in the UK, and the New York Times and Wall Street Journal in the US.

"There does seem to be evidence for thinking that climate scepticism is much stronger in 'Anglo-Saxon' countries (the US, UK, Canada, and Australia for example), as measured by its presence in the media," said Painter. "This is partly because of the growing international links of organized climate scepticism, where prominent English-speaking climate sceptics are often found in the media of countries other than their homeland."

While the study does not make any recommendations for climate scientists or journalists, Painter said it is quite clear that mainstream climate scientists have a different engagement with the media in different countries, according to factors both within the media there and wider society. "In Brazil and India, for example, where in the past sceptic voices have been few and far between, a climate scientist would be very unlikely to have to debate with a climate sceptic on a broadcast programme," he said. "However, it is interesting that in recent months some of the Brazilian media have started to give a lot more voice to sceptics."

Now the team hopes to extend the research into other countries where sceptic voices have a strong presence, such as Australia, Norway and Eastern Europe. "We would also like to update the period that we looked at (2009/10) to see whether the strong presence of sceptic voices in the UK and US was maintained after the decline of media interest in 'Climategate'," said Painter. "However, our next piece of research is how the media in five or six different countries report the uncertainty and risk in climate science, focusing on global temperature rises and Arctic sea-ice melt."

Painter and Ashe reported their work in Environmental Research Letters (ERL).