NEWSPAPERS: GREEN ISSUES: It's Not the End of the World ; Journalists Have a Responsibility to Cover Climate Change, but Make the Pieces Too Gloomy and Readers Will Fail to Listen. and There's Also a Problem Convincing Some Editors to Take the Subject Seriously, Reports Oliver Duff

By Duff, Oliver | The Independent (London, England), January 9, 2006 | Go to article overview
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NEWSPAPERS: GREEN ISSUES: It's Not the End of the World ; Journalists Have a Responsibility to Cover Climate Change, but Make the Pieces Too Gloomy and Readers Will Fail to Listen. and There's Also a Problem Convincing Some Editors to Take the Subject Seriously, Reports Oliver Duff


Duff, Oliver, The Independent (London, England)


The British press routinely carries The Day After Tomorrow-style articles " about earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes, floods and big freezes " which journalists might think are raising awareness of climate change.

The reality, a new report has found, is that this coverage is so hopelessly doom-laden in tone that readers have become apathetic about the threat.

The research, by the green communications agency Futerra, found that 60 per cent of articles about climate change in national newspapers were negative and failed to mention possible solutions. Only a quarter included any mention of what could be, or is being, done to fight climate change. Stories in the tabloid and mid-market papers (which reach three-quarters of national readers) tended to be highly scaremongering.

'If we keep telling people that Armageddon is inevitable, we risk creating an epidemic of apathy,' says Solitaire Townsend, managing director of Futerra. 'If you create fear you must create hope and agency " the ability to do something about it, and believe that you can do something about it.' She says that telling the public to take notice of climate change is proving 'as successful as selling tampons to men'.

In its study, Futerra reviewed the 320 national newspaper stories about climate change published between August and November last year. Each was given a 'Fear/Hope' rating from one to five, with one being the most pessimistic.

The Financial Times came out best: it printed 63 climate change articles and had an average Fear/Hope rating of 2.7 " as close to 'balanced' as any paper got. The Independent was second, with 60 articles and a more pessimistic outlook (2.2). The Sun was one of the worst offenders, publishing just four (hugely negative) articles.

The FT's environment correspondent, Fiona Harvey " who recently won the Foreign Press Association award for environment story of the year " topped the reporters' league. Her prolific writing (28 articles in 13 weeks " 20 more than her closest challenger, Charles Clover of The Daily Telegraph) was the most balanced (2.9, where 3 is balanced).

'Our job is just to report the truth of what is going on,' says Harvey, speaking from the UN climate conference in Montreal. 'If [government] talks are taking a long time and there's no progress, you have to say that. A story that is gloomy is still often realistic.'

But Harvey says she tries to emphasise practical measures that readers can take to tackle climate change. 'We have a business audience and I've lost count of the number of times over the last year I've written about energy efficiency,' she says. 'It is beneficial for companies, as it saves them money, and it helps the environment by curbing emissions. Telling readers what they can do is crucial.'

Journalists have a responsibility 'to get people away from the idea that climate change will be gradual and will happen in 20 or 30 years' time,' she says.

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NEWSPAPERS: GREEN ISSUES: It's Not the End of the World ; Journalists Have a Responsibility to Cover Climate Change, but Make the Pieces Too Gloomy and Readers Will Fail to Listen. and There's Also a Problem Convincing Some Editors to Take the Subject Seriously, Reports Oliver Duff
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