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The more climate-vulnerable a country is, the more complex and nuanced its climate journalism

DAILY SCIENCE

The more climate vulnerable a country is, the more complex and nuanced its climate journalism

Researchers combed through nearly 100,000 articles, and found the media in wealthy, high-emitting countries could learn a lot from journalists in less wealthy, climate-vulnerable areas.
March 12, 2024

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The countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change produce robust and nuanced journalism on the topic, according to a new analysis.

The positive findings contrast with previous research suggesting that climate coverage in less wealthy countries lacked scientific and journalistic rigor.

Past climate journalism research has typically considered individual low- or middle-income countries in isolation, or painted these countries with a broad brush comparing them en masse to wealthy, high-emitting countries. The new study is the first to examine climate journalism across a range of middle-income countries, comparing them to each other and looking for trends within this group.

Researchers assembled a total of 95,216 news articles published between 2010 and 2020 in 50 publications across 26 middle-income countries that are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The countries include Bangladesh, China, Lebanon, the Philippines, Uzbekistan, and Zimbabwe.

The researchers used machine learning to analyze the content of the articles, and read a subset of the articles themselves in order to qualitatively verify the model’s results.

The most common topics covered across the whole set of articles are international governance and development, the economics of energy transitions, and climate change impacts, the researchers report in the journal Environmental Research Letters. Together these topics make up more than one-third of the total sample.

 

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There are some differences among countries by region. “The media in Sub-Saharan Africa pays a significantly higher level of attention to agriculture relative to other regions,” the researchers write. In South Asia, coverage focuses relatively little on international governance, and more on national politics.

Some countries also have a unique focus to their climate journalism. In South Africa there is a lot of coverage of energy economics, and Vietnam emphasizes collective action.

Of the 26 countries examined in the study, the ones most vulnerable to climate change impacts are Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, India, Nepal, and Nigeria. These countries all have similarities to each other in their climate coverage, the researchers found. Climate journalism in more vulnerable countries tends to focus less on international governance and US politics, and more on national governance and national elites.

In general, the more vulnerable a country is to climate change, the more climate-related topics that tend to be covered in a single article in their media. “In the most vulnerable countries, the media explicitly reports on the complexity and multifaceted nature of climate change,” the researchers write. “By speaking to the social, economic, scientific, and political aspects of climate change, news coverage in the most vulnerable countries is highly sophisticated.”

This suggests that the media in wealthy, high-emitting countries, where climate coverage “still struggles to make explicit connections between two topics, such as climate change and health,” has a lot to learn from the media in middle-income, climate-vulnerable countries, the researchers add.

A limitation of the study is that it only includes English-language print media sources. Future research should also look at the portrayal of climate change in digital and social media, the researchers say.

Source: McAllister L. et al.Vulnerable voices: using topic modeling to analyze newspaper coverage of climate change in 26 non-Annex I countries (2010-2020).” Environmental Research Letters 2024.

Image: ©Anthropocene Magazine

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