TV News' Climate Change Coverage Tends to Focus on Disasters, Study Says

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Such dire depictions are not seen as helping with personal engagement

Television news tends to focus on disasters like droughts or floods in covering scientific findings about climate change, a new study has found.

Examining how TV news outlets in six countries covered three UN reports on climate change in the past year, The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that the coverage put a strong emphasis on portraying the adverse impacts or "disaster" effects.

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Beyond that, the study found that while the 2013-14 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports were given considerable coverage in Australia, Brazil, Germany and the U.K., they received little to no coverage in China (40 seconds) and India (none).

When the reports were covered, disaster scenarios were emphasized over themes of scientific uncertainty, the risks of global warming or opportunities accruing from climate change.

"For television, which is driven by pictures and the need for strong, engaging narratives in a short space of time, disaster-type approaches are going to be very attractive," study author James Painter told Reuters.

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But such dire depictions are not seen as helping with personal engagement, the study found.

In each country, a channel was chosen that commanded a significant audience, often the largest in the country and frequently the most trusted channel. The combined audience of the six channels was around 50 million. The six channels studied were ABC 1 in Australia, TV Globo in Brazil, CCTV-1 in China, ARD in Germany, Aaj Tak in India and the BBC in the U.K.

The reports, published every five or six years since 1988, are widely regarded as the most important and authoritative publications on climate change on a global scale.

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