Even as 60 million people around the world face severe hunger because of El Niño and millions more because of climate change, top European and American media outlets are neglecting to cover the issues as a top news item, says a new research report funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) today.
“It’s incredible that in a year when we have had record temperatures, 32 major droughts, and historic crop losses that media are not positioning climate change on their front pages,” said IFAD President, Kanayo F. Nwanze. “Climate change is the biggest threat facing our world today and how the media shape the narrative remains vitally important in pre-empting future crises.”
The report, “The Untold Story: Climate change sinks below the headlines” provides an analysis of the depth of media reporting around climate change in two distinct periods: two months before the 21st session of the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris, and two months after. Specifically, it explores whether issues connecting climate change, food security, agriculture and migration made headlines, and if so, how much prominence these stories were given.
Among some of its key findings:
- Climate change stories were either completely absent or their numbers decreased in major media outlets in Europe and the United States before and after COP21.
- Coverage on the consequences of climate change, such as migration, fell by half in the months after COP21 and people directly impacted by climate change rarely had a voice in stories or were not mentioned at all.
- News consumers want climate change issues and solutions to be given more prominence in media outlets and, in particular, want more information on the connections between climate change, food insecurity, conflict and migration.
The release of the report comes just days before world leaders gather at the United Nations in New York to sign off on the Paris Agreement coming out of COP21. In December, the agreement made headlines and led news bulletins across the globe. But leading up to COP21 and in the months following it, coverage on climate change significantly fell off the radar of major media outlets across Europe and the United States.
“The research shows how the average news-consuming public want to hear constructive stories that highlight solutions to climate change, yet this is exactly what is missing from major news outlets,” said Sam Dubberley, a former journalist and Director of Kishnish Media Ltd, and the author of the report.
Building on initial research that was conducted on media in France and the United Kingdom in September 2015, the report is augmented by focus group surveys that look at what newsreaders understand about food and climate-related migration and their impression of media coverage provided. The report asks what expert voices were heard throughout the stories and whether farmers or migrants themselves had a voice.
The research findings are drawn from an analysis of the content of news stories across influential and popular media outlets: TF1 and France 2 in France, RAI and LA7 in Italy, BBC and Channel 4 in the United Kingdom and CBS and NBC in the United States, as well as the front pages of print editions of Le Monde and Libération in France, Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica in Italy, The Guardian and Daily Mail in the United Kingdom and the New York Times and USA Today in the United States.
In 2014, IFAD funded a research report that looked at how 19 large global and regional news organizations covered issues related to migration and, in particular, food security and agriculture and how it impacted on migration. It focused on two stories that made headlines over the summer of 2014 – the US/Mexico border crisis and the ongoing conflict in South Sudan, which created a large numbers of migrants. That report also found that the depth of coverage on the topics was lacking, and in particular that the voices of migrants were often left out of the stories.