Media climate. Transnational media coverage of the climate crisis - a comparative perspective of journalistic practices and norms
The global climate crisis and degradation of the environment have been raised to the level of major concern during the last years. However, we know less about how media cover this crisis, and especially the professional dilemmas involved in various corners of the world. Research on media coverage of climate change and journalistic norms has mostly dealt with the relations between journalists and climate scientists (Hornmoen, Meyer and Sylwain 2006, Boykoff and Boykoff 2007, Boykoff 2007, Palfreman 2006). Research on the political translation of climate science (Carvalho 2005, Ryghaug 2006) has so far been scant, and so has a more general approach to media coverage of this issue and the journalistic dilemmas it entails.
As one of the potential conflicts inherent in the climate crisis is articulated (not least in the media) as existing between the “North” and “South” – particularly when it comes to responsibility for the crisis and its solutions – the special relevance of this project lies (a) in its ability to cut across this (imagined) divide and compare media representations of global events in countries both in the “North” and in the “South”, (b) its focus on the dynamics of journalism facing a global crisis, and (c) its connections to media coverage of other global events (the caricature crisis).
2. Aspects relating to the research project.
2.1 Background and status of knowledge
From Brundtland to Copenhagen. The climate crisis may be seen alternatively as a physical-technical phenomenon and as a phenomenon related to culture, values and morality – or as both. The recognition of climate change as a global concern is epitomized by the 1987 Brundtland report Our Common Future. But in addressing this concern at the Rio Conference in 1992, it became apparent that the world was perceived not as one, but two; The developed North was diagnosed as needing less whereas the developing South needed more economic growth (Guha 2000:138-146). In Bangladesh, the arguments of Rio still seem relevant: “As one of the poorest countries it should call for a sufficient transfer of wealth from the rich countries to remove poverty in Bangladesh.” (Shamim 2008:268). This conflict has had strong influence on the negotiating processes and is likely to express itself also in Copenhagen, where the Kyoto Protocol is to be replaced by a new global climate accord.
In Norway part of the solution to global warming is also intended to address the problem of the North/South divide; by the application of the so-called “Kyoto mechanisms”. In the last 15 years the Government of Norway has changed its interpretation of the Kyoto protocol considerably, from a discourse of “national action” to one of “thinking globally” (Hovden and Lindseth 2004). When Jens Stoltenberg launched “the most ambitious climate policy in the world” in April 2007 it was to a large degree with the help of climate quotas to cut emissions and help development in the South. Setting a price on emissions through the creation of a carbon market has, however, been met with criticism (Kaldbekken 2007, Ytterstad 2008, Bellamy Foster 2002). It is likely that various environmental movements and lobbyists will be voicing this concern at the Copenhagen Summit. These movements, or what Adler and Mittelman (2004:194-195) refer to as globalization from below can be understood as a multifaceted popular phenomenon not restricted to, but most forcefully expressed by, summit-demonstrators. This is another potential conflict to be aware of in an analysis of media coverage of climate summits.
The “clash” and the “we”. The Climate Crisis has a potential for both division and unification and the media coverage may contribute to the enhancing of both tendencies. As the declared “War on Terror” in much media coverage has occurred as representations reinforcing theories of “Clash of Civilizations” (Huntington 1993, 1996), recent realizations of global interdependency may work either in the same direction, reinforcing “discourses of fear” (Altheide 2002). This became increasingly clear during the caricature crisis, where Huntington’s thesis was frequently alluded to in media discourse (Kunelius, Eide & al 2007).
On the other hand, one may ask whether the gradually more universally recognised climate crisis opens for more media emphasis on a globalized we, cutting across imagined and real divides, taking into consideration what one might label “remote-controlled suffering”. In 2008 we may identify some powerful (visual) media metaphors and images engaging viewers and readers; on one hand the victimized Polar Bear balancing on the tip of a small ice berg as well as South Asian flood victims on top of their roofs or wading in water up to their necks in flooded cities – on the other the much feared Malaria Mosquito moving into climate zones which till now have been spared. Indeed, with the successive IPCC reports in 2007 some media seem to have moved towards a normative stance. From journalist seminars in Norway to discussions among editors and journalists in the BBC; the question is raised; is it the job of journalists to “save the World”?1 While it is improbable that most journalists would answer in the affirmative, the question testifies to a central hypothesis of ours; more journalists now tend to perceive themselves and act as important brokers for global solutions to climate change.
Journalism and change. Journalism, working with limited space and pressing deadlines, also tend to simplify complicated matters such as those alluded to above, and to focus on conflicts, the negative and the extreme (Galtung & Ruge 1965, Hernes 1977, Bourdieu 1999, Benson & Neveu 2005). Moreover, traditional journalistic allegiance to the professional norms of balance and objectivity has, particularly in the USA, resulted in a disproportionate coverage of sceptics to man-made global warming relative to the UN consensus (Boykoff and Boykoff 2007). Analysis of the most recent coverage however (Boykoff 2007) suggests that journalists increasingly take the scientific consensus for granted. If so, the emphasis on global solutions to the problem may be a more central media focus in the time to come.
In addition to the analysis of textual representations through co-operation in the global network, a Ph D project will investigate the role of journalists as normative actors. Peter Berglez from our partner project Social Representations of Climate Change in the Media and Among Citizens is currently investigating how climate change is also changing the role of journalism itself (Berglez forthcoming). Choudhury Shamim underlines the importance of the Forum of Environmental Journalists of Bangladesh (FEJB), and notes as “the only optimistic feature [is] that the people of Bangladesh are very politically conscious and environmentally aware. The media and the NGOs are playing a very positive role.” (Shamim 2008:269). A similar organization of Environmental journalists exists in Indonesia, raising the same questions2.
Global events. As with the caricature crisis3 the summits (Bali 2007, Copenhagen 2009) on climate changes may be seen as global media events. They receive(d) wide media coverage, but the reporting is simultaneously framed by a variety of national discursive situations (Carvalho 2005). Bali and Copenhagen are crucial since the targets are to seek solutions which go beyond Kyoto and to include more signatories. World leaders are supposed to make sure that the curve of global emissions reaches its top by 2015. A sense of urgency is notable in many countries, among them media researchers in Bangladesh and Indonesia who have pledged partnership in this project. The urgency is also felt in many European countries, albeit perhaps for different reasons. Bangladesh is often cited as one of the victimized countries in which the consequences of climate change are most imminent. The role of the Norwegian government, building on the legacy of the Brundtland report, may on the other hand at times be represented in the media as world saviours exercising a regime of goodness (Tvedt 2003). The front page of Dagbladet during the Bali Summit may be indicative of a portrayal of a country that leads by example. The prime minister was bringing 9 billion (NOK; i.e. 1.1 billion Euro) to Bali earmarked for the work against destruction of the tropical rainforest, and the headline ran: “It is now confirmed – Santa Claus is Norwegian” – with a picture of the prime minister decorating a Christmas tree. These examples may indicate the need to investigate further not only how the crisis is covered in general – but also how various nation states in media narratives are ascribed a number of different roles when it comes to the handling of the climate crisis.
See application form
2.3 Approaches, hypotheses, methodology
I. The transnational network project
Media and journalism studies is a cross-disciplinary field, and our theoretical and methodological background will reflect this, with its emphasis both on critical post-colonial theory and media sociology; traditional quantitative studies as well as discourse analysis and exploring visual narratives linked to the climate coverage. Our study will be explorative and the following questions will be posed in our work with media coverage of the summits in Bali and Copenhagen in a number of countries.
* In which ways are challenges and solutions to the present-day climate crisis represented? Which discourses on blame for the existing crisis and responsibility for solutions do occur?
* How do the conventions of journalism (i.e. emphasis on extremes and conflicts) come into play in the media coverage of global events related to climate change?
* How do journalists in different countries work with climate change? Is there a change of journalists’ norms and practices along the scale from “neutral professionals” to “agents for solutions”?
* Will we see a globalization of ecological knowledge – and of a media representation enhancing ethical responsibility for the “distant Other” – or will the coverage concentrate more on nation state issues and governmental negotiating strategies at the summits?
* To what degree is humanity seen as unified/divided in face of climate change and other global environmental challenges? Are media more inclined to apply a global “we” in their coverage of climate events?
To investigate these questions the project plans to make an analysis of the coverage of the two summits in Bali and Copenhagen in a limited number of media in the participating countries (Argentina, Bangladesh, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Germany, Finland, India, Indonesia, Israel, Norway, Pakistan, Sweden, UK and US4). The scope will be limited to media material from two-three weeks, some days ahead of the summits, during the summit and after the summit. All stories in this period will be registered and categorised according to an agreed-upon list of topics. The gender and the social status of sources will also be registered. The in-depth analysis will focus on the larger news stories (often including interviews with politicians, lobbyists and activists), as well as editorials, comments and background stories (including interviews with researchers). We will also look particularly for stories focusing on climatic consequences across the world and monitor to which extent grass roots people (women and men) are given a voice in the coverage. We will select these materials from one electronic medium (one of the larger TV stations in each country) and two print media (including web sites). The project leader, in addition to being responsible for coordination, tutoring of students (Ph D and MA), will take part in the data collection and analysis of the Norwegian media. Our analysis will be based on quantitative textual analysis, while the qualitative analysis will work with a combination of critical discourse analysis (Fairclough 1992, 1995, Neumann , framing theory (Entman 1993, Sandberg 2003) and rhetorical analysis (Plec 2007).
The Network. So far, the following partners have sent a formal dedication to the project (see appl form): University of Indonesia, University of Dhaka, University of Tampere, University of Örebro and Oslo University college. We expect at least the equal amount of partners to join the project after meeting the “Caricature network” in Stockholm this summer. Dr. Billy Sarwono (Indonesia) as well as Prof Risto Kunelius (Finland) have agreed to share the leadership responsibility of the network activities (see attached CVs).
In addition to the network activities and leadership, the project in Norway has the following sub-projects:
2.4 Project plan
- The Transnational network project will have a first planning session in Stockholm as a short pre-conference before the IAMCR5. Many of the partners from the “Caricature Network” will be there, and others, including researchers from our cooperating institution in Bangladesh, Dhaka University and from The University of Indonesia. There our plan of monitoring the coverage of the two summits (Bali and Copenhagen) will be discussed and further elaborated (which media, time span, our quantitative and qualitative methodology etc.), and suggestions for special sub-projects in the respective countries will be registered.
- Culcom – in its transnational part of the programme – has planned a conference in 2009 inviting participants of this project. There, participants will present papers analysing the Bali summit coverage, and the plan for analysis of the Copenhagen coverage will be spelled out in further detail, as well as plans for various print and web publications.
- A second conference will be organised by Culcom Oslo, and Tampere University in 2010, in which papers (chapter drafts) for an anthology will be discussed and scrutinized.
- Here in Norway we will co-operate with the Deptt of Journalism and Communication at Oslo University College and enjoy the benefit of their resources and capacity when it comes to analysis of media coverage. Besides the existing global network, we will benefit from co-operation with an existing project in Örebro University.
- A global perspective is at the core of this project, as described elsewhere. Building media researchers’ networks on questions vital to the future of this world, is strategically important, as we have learned from the Caricature project.
Some of our co-operation partners have access to research and travel funding, while others have not, and in addition live in countries in which the salaries and economy in general do not easily allow them to participate on a global scale. This holds especially true for partners in countries in the so-called South. Therefore, we apply for additional funding from the NFR to cover workshop-like conferences in which our research will take shape. The experiences from the Caricature project reveals that three international conferences helped produce two joint publications (see references). In the course of this project we will also seek to find alternative ways of communication to conferences, among them video conferences.
2.6 Project leadership, organization and co-operation
From Culcom Elisabeth Eide (Ph D, Associate professor) will be responsible for leadership (Billy Sarwono and Risto Kunelius have agreed to share network responsibilities). The researchers at Culcom have a good tradition with engaging in transnational networks and publications. Culcom as a strategic research programme is linked to the Institute of Social Anthropology; and has through this good administrative resources for undertaking such a project. As for planning and partners, see above.
Culcom furthermore has an ongoing programme for supervision of Ph D and MA candidates – who, while linked to their respective institutes, also receive tutoring here, and are offered to take part in a range of activities (seminars, guest lectures etc) relevant to their endeavours6.
Elisabeth Eide also has an Ass. Prof. II position at Oslo University College, Journalism deptt., where she has worked since 1988. She has been responsible for several research projects (On Gender and journalism 1989-1991), on reportage (1994-1996) and on press history (2004-2008), plus has a doctoral degree in transnational journalism research. In addition, she and Prof Risto Kunelius at Tampere University has shared the responsibility of leading the “Reading the Mohammed Cartoons” project (2006-2008), including researchers from 16 countries, resulting in two anthologies.
III Other relevant aspects
3.1Relevance for society at large
The Climate Crisis represents a potential – and real – strain on the journalistic profession. A project of this global nature may with its comparative perspectives open for a wider understanding among media workers as well as among politicians and concerned citizens. The project will contribute to awareness among these citizens when it comes to how media may function in representing a global phenomenon and process – as well as global media events (the summits). The project will generate teaching material aimed at educating the new generation of journalists in a number of countries, as well as arranging open seminars and workshops aimed at improving the debates on climate change and media in the public sphere, in all the participating countries. The experience from the caricature project with a number of such open conferences show that this is a realistic expectation.
3.2 Ethical aspects
The “ethics of consequence” is central to the environmental crisis – as acts performed in one locality may influence the livelihoods of people in other parts of the world. The history and codes of media ethics in the respective countries may be relevant to the media analysis. Promotion of equity between researchers from “the North” and the “South” through long-term co-operation is also a central aim of this project. In the interviews of the Ph D project, full anonymity will be ensured in accordance with NSD (Norsk Samfunnsvitenskapelig dagatjeneste) regulations.
3.3 Equal rights and gender perspective
The project when registering the media coverage, will carefully monitor who speaks and who is represented as actors when it comes to Climate change, as well as applying the gender perspective while interviewing journalists about their practices and norms. In our recruitment of Ph D and MA students we will look for good gender balance as well as people with minority background. Note that the project leader is a woman; so is our partner in Indonesia (although her name is Billy) – and the project leader at Örebro University and several other persons within the wider network.
IV Communication with users and utilization of results
4.1 Communication with users
Among the people and institutions which would benefit from this research are Journalism and communication schools and departments across the world – in particular in the countries from which researchers are participating. We intend to have special contact with groups of environmental journalists in a number of countries, inviting them to paper presentation, interviewing them and informing them throughout the process.
4.2 Dissemination plan
The project will have its own website under the Culcom umbrella (starting from 2009) – and suggestions from participating partners will be discussed in Stockholm in July 2008.
- One of the end results of the project will be an anthology which aims at representing the results from between ten and 15 countries – preferably with a balance between the North and the South.
- A corresponding number of articles are expected to be a result from the project.
- A textbook in English aimed at educating journalists in several countries is part of the plan, and interactive learning material meant for web-learning will be developed.
- We will seek co-operation with groups of journalists covering climate/environment and also plan to present our results at global conferences of journalists (the latter will be helped by the experience of the project leader, having journalistic background and having participated in three Global Inter Media Dialogue conferences (in Indonesia and Norway) with journalists and editors from more than 60 countries across the world.)