Having worked in TV and radio for 30 years, this story really hit home for me. When the editors and newscast producers see climate change as ratings losing proposition, you know the battle for eyes and ears has been lost by the climate alarmists. – Anthony
A stormy forecast for climate change reporting
By Margot O’Neill
Fresh from a sabbatical studying climate change reporting at the University of Oxford, the ABC’s Margot O’Neill considers whether or not the media has done a good job.
WHATEVER HAPPENED to climate change? This time last year climate change was a hot topic regularly appearing in news bulletins and on front pages. Phrases such as “the future of humanity could be at stake” were quoted, celebrities marshalled and 4,000 journalists prepared to descend on the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen. Apparently humanity’s future is now secure… or so it might seem given the paucity of journalism devoted to the issue in the mainstream media.
Where did all the climate change stories go? “The [programmers] are against it because it loses ratings,” says a senior BBC journalist. “The wave [of public interest] has gone. There is climate change fatigue. That is why I am not [reporting] it now.”
Other journalists agree. Even reporters at The Guardian, which especially targets environmental reporting, complain that it’s difficult to get a run. Another UK broadcast journalist said he was warned that putting climate change on prime time would risk losing a million viewers.
In a series of interviews with some of the UK’s top specialist environment and science correspondents, I explored the changing climate for reporters covering global warming – as part of the ABC’s Donald McDonald research fellowship at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford. Most of the journalists rated the media poorly on communicating what some have dubbed the epic news story of the century. “We have failed to engage the public,” said a broadcast journalist.
The key problems? The list is long but includes a cold winter in Europe, the distant impacts, the failure of the December 2009 UN climate change Copenhagen summit to produce a binding international agreement, public confusion about whether there is a reliable scientific consensus, and alarmist media coverage with Hollywood-horror headlines like “Be Scared; Be Very Scared!” that are more likely to induce the purchase of popcorn than solar panels.
The biggest hurdle mentioned by most journalists was the so-called ‘Climategate’, the controversy surrounding the publication of hundreds of hacked emails from the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK between influential climate scientists. It was a “defining moment in all our careers,” according to an environment editor.
Given the underlying science has been exonerated in successive inquiries, what is it that the journalists believe they were guilty of? Firstly, they missed a cracking story that was instead first pursued by the blogosphere and which proved to be, unlike many other climate change stories, a hit with the public. After struggling to find stories the public wanted to read, a tabloid journalist observed “Climategate … got a strong response; it made climate change more topical.”
Many journalists say the UEA email hacking, combined with the discovery of an error regarding the melting of the Himalayan glaciers in the 2007 report by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), also proved they had failed to cast a critical enough eye on climate science and that they had been far too dismissive of sceptics.
Read the rest here, well worth the click.