Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Environmental Wednesday: No, seriously what's the point?

I'm taking a class in reporting on humanitarian crises. We had one seminar on reporting on climate change. I wrote a 20 page paper on what the media has done and what it is doing now. And after all that I am still asking what is the role of the media in terms of something like climate change?

In Europe, where governments have long supported, implemented, and regulated policy on climate change, the media has been there to report these decisions. I'm sure they haven't always done a great job. But they haven't spent the last ten years producing reporting that shows a balance between climate sceptics and climate scientists like America and Australia have(1) when really there hasn't been a balance at all.

When I asked this in class, my lecturer was like "Well, that's because the government in Europe supports climate change and here they haven't until recently." He left it at that like that was a good enough answer. When really, REALLY, shouldn't the media's job be to criticise? To evaluate? To at least question? Shouldn't the media be supporting it ESPECIALLY because the governments aren't? I mean, maybe not. Maybe I am blinded by my passion.

Perhaps talking about the media and what it should be like isn't a useful exercise. But I can't help feeling like it is. I think the media should've taken a more critical eye on the Bush administration and it's INaction. Particularly in linking the forest fires in California and Hurricane Katrina to climate change. I think the media should be take a look at its practices of "journalistic norms" and ask in a situation like this one, the reality of the one we're in NOW, if those norms are in fact realistic. "Balanced" journalism isn't always right.

I'm not going to lie to you, I feel betrayed that the media offered this balance view of sceptics and scientists without ever divulging the fact that the science claims were backed by peer review and the sceptics claims weren't. Maybe this is old hat and of course one could take the time and do his or her own research. But when it comes down to it, isn't the average American getting their news through media outlets? To be honest, I hardly ever read the newspaper and for the most part I remain highly uneducated about the going ons of American politics (or Australian politics for that matter - although I care slightly more in Australia...weird right?) - but when I do learn about new technology or new policy I do take it from the media. And it has betrayed me and I may hold a grudge.

What do you think? Is my lecturer right? Is the lack of government support for climate change a reasonable excuse for the ineffectual reporting on global warming? Is it ok for media to have "goals" when it comes to communicating climate science? Are these goals a type of bias or are they just saying it how it is?

It's only going to get tougher from here on in for the media. And asking "how should've this gone" seems like a reasonable way to learn from past mistakes - but I don't hear anyone asking.

(1) Boykoff, M and J. Boykoff (2007) 'Climate change and journalistic norms: a case study of US mass media coverage' Geoforum 38: 1190-1204.


  1. This is a big topic. I don't know if it's media's job to criticize, but certainly they should report information responsibly and accurately. The problem is reporting accurate information on issues with two opposing sides and data to support each viewpoint.

    The more frightening point to consider is how much government can influence media in certain places.

  2. i certainly don't think it's ok but i also don't think it is *only* the media's job to be cognizant. i mean we are citizens of the world not just our own countries. if we, who are passionate, do not speak up about it then who will? i mean we've got al gore who actually did something. but aside from that there's not much. and to be fair i haven't done much either but i still think a large part of it should be on ourselves.

    in fact, why don't we, the people, hold the media accountable? or the government for that matter? i mean most of why everything has become so overgrown and unbearable is that we don't do anything about it. that sounds a lot more self-righteous than i mean it to be because i'm just as bad as the next person (well somewhat well-informed person) but i do think we need to hold ourselves accountable first and foremost. but yes we should also expect our gov't and the media to step up.