Newspapers with climate change in the headlines

Media coverage

Have the media created a spurious debate?

The media, particularly newspapers, have been accused of miscommunicating the extent of disagreement about climate change.

Partly this may reflect the desire of newspaper owners, editors or columnists to put forward their own personal views. Newspapers also depend on a constant stream of new stories to interest readers, so debate and controversy are of greater value than consensus. A dissenting voice, questioning ‘establishment’ views, is inevitably more newsworthy than ‘more of the same’.

Newspapers may not want to be accused of stifling debate. Many media also aim for ‘balance’ and will provide a platform for dissenting voices. Sometimes these voices represent a very small minority and hence get disproportionate attention.

A consequence of this is that space may be given over to people because they have something interesting to say rather than because their views have a firm foundation. The impression of debate may be created even if the reality is quite different.

Although scientists may find this frustrating, the media do not exist simply to transmit ‘the truth’; commercial media want to maximise their sales. Even public broadcasters want to make sure that their news is interesting enough to draw in an audience.

Some climate sceptics view ‘the green lobby’ as vested interest groups making irresponsible claims to stoke fear and raise donations. A good example of such sceptics’ campaigning is ‘The Great Global Warming Swindle’ documentary film of 2007.

In return, climate campaigners claim that sceptics now dominate the media. The BBC has been criticised by climate campaigners for giving too much airtime to climate sceptics.

Lead image:

Lilli Day/iStockphoto


About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Health and Climate Change’ in January 2009 and reviewed and updated in September 2014.

Ecology and environment, Careers
Health and Climate Change
Education levels:
14–16, 16–19, Continuing professional development