More climate change but is it the right climate change?

Newspapers in developing countries are publishing more stories about climate change, but how much is locally relevant and how much is just recycled from the West?

Over the past few years, Max Boykoff and Maria Mansfield have tracked how much coverage 50 newspapers around the world have given to climate change.

Their latest findings suggest that after years of big regional differences, the newspapers now publish a similar number of articles each month, on average (click chart to view larger version).

In the past 18 months or so, the number of articles per month has fallen in North America, Oceania and Europe, and has increased in the newspapers in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and South America.


The big spike at the end of 2009 coincides with the mass of reporting around the COP15 climate change conference in Copenhagen. It will be interesting to see where the plotlines head next — if they stay bunched together or if they split again in a new way on the other side of the knot.

It was kind of Max to suggest in an email that the increase in coverage in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and South America is partly due to projects like the Climate Change Media Partnership, which I have been working on since 2007.

This joint initiative between IIED, Internews and Panos has directly or indirectly supported thousands of journalists in developing countries to report on climate change (it has been nominated for an award, and if you are quick you can vote for it here).

But a recent study published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford suggests there is still a lot of work to do. Its author, Evelyn Tagbo, looked at all of the articles on climate change in South Africa’s Mail and Guardian newspaper during the first three months of 2009 and 2010.

She found that more than 70% of these articles were international with no South African (nor even African) content. Original stories by reporters there accounted for just 6% of the climate change coverage.

I am curious to know what readers of this blog think about these studies. Has media coverage of climate change increased much in your countries?

Has media coverage included more locally-relevant, locally-generated stories, or is there a heavy reliance on ‘international’ stories, including those from Western news agencies and press releases?

And given that the chart above is based on stories in English-language newspapers around the world (listed here at the bottom of the page), what are the trends in media coverage of climate change in local language newspapers, radio and televsion?

If you do comment, please say which country you are writing from.

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31 Responses to More climate change but is it the right climate change?

  1. Alpha Nuhu says:

    Our local newspapers heavily rely on stories from Western news agencies and press releases. There are few locally-relevant and locally-generated stories.

  2. butunyi says:

    In my view, we should celebrate the increased coverage of climate change issues regardless of where the press releases hail from.

    I am not sure what a press release from the West implies because respected journals in which scientists from Africa publish are usually not based on the continent.

    Besides, there is more collaboration in climate change studies between scientists from different parts of the world. So, if it is a climate change study and is relevant to the newspaper’s audience, why not?

    • mikeshanahan says:

      Hi Cosmas,
      My concern is that many journalists are taking press releases and just reprinting them word-for-word, without any additional reporting to make the news relevant to local audiences. Even if an international story is of general interest around the world, I think it would be much more interesting to people in any given country if the story included local context and opinions.
      Cheers, Mike

  3. Chinyere Fred-Adegbulugbe says:

    Hi Mike,

    I agree with those who believe that most content of our [Nigerian] climate change stories are not locally inclined. They are based on studies and researches done by scholars in the more developed economies.

    This, perhaps, also explains why many editors are not excited over such stories. I am sure reporters will be glad to do more local stories but I bet they need direction.

    By the way, I noticed that South Africa was the African country cited in the study.

    • mikeshanahan says:

      That’s right. South Africa was the only African country included in the dataset. If you want to read some information on media coverage of climate change in Ghana and Nigeria, they are also mentioned in Evelyn Tagbo’s study, which I included a link to above.

  4. Mike Banos says:

    Yes, we [in the Philippines] have vastly increased coverage of climate change and global warming. Unfortunately, the aid to cope with this has been predominantly to mitigate, instead of cope. Why should we do that since we’re not even a minor contributor to greenhouse gases? What G-7 Countries as well as China, India, Brazil and Russia should do is dole out more aid to 3rd world countries adversely affected by climate change resulting from their prodigal lifestyle.

  5. Marianne de Nazareth says:

    In the last year I have begun writing columns for several mags and online portals which never dealt with the environment or climate change at all. So an awareness is growing and local writers are in big demand.

    Over the years we did stories in Bangalore on rain-water harvesting and how we need it to sustain fresh water supplies for the burgeoning city, and today the government has made it mandatory.

    We local journalists plugged on the importance of at least using solar water heaters, and the government stepped in and gave subsidies and now again that is mandatory in Bangalore for new buildings!

    We wrote ad nauseum about how pollution escalates and the heat levels soar with cutting of trees in the city and now we have citizens raise their voices when trees are being cut (but we still have been unsuccessful here in the name of infrastructure).

    I am glad I got a chance to be educated by the UNFCCC and UNEP about climate change so now we write from our own country (but the angles have to be soft and bordering on infotainment.)

    But I do know that for the Edit and Op Ed pages, before local journalists wrote, I did source stories from the Guardian and the NYT which never connected with India.

  6. Imelda Abano says:

    It is fair to say that in the Philippines, coverage of climate change issues has been increasing in the past few years, especially in 2009 during the onslaught of two strong typhoons where people and policymakers have become more interested on climate change issues, disaster risk reduction, adaptation and mitigation.

    News organizations used to get climate change stories from Western news agencies but more and more locally-generated stories are now being written by local journalists. That is why the Philippine Network of Environmental Journalists (inspired by the Climate Change Media Partnership of IIED Panos, EJN) is keen on equipping local journalists to do more environmental stories to improve the quality and quantity of our reporting in the country. And apart from that, we are starting to bridge the communication gap between and among scientists, policymakers and journalists in the Philippines.

  7. Mohamed Issa says:

    My observation shows that there is a growing interest here [in Tanzania] in publishing climate-change related stories of varying degrees sourced externally and internal. I think available supplement editors should grab this opportunity to prepare special report(s) on climate change which will be sponsored by related advertisers such as solar panel, wind turbine dealers, institutions and so forth to further propel the agenda.

  8. Most newspapers/e-media here in Namibia slavishly copy the material released and published by the Western media. That results in our picture of Climate Change being quite skewed. The lunatic fringe takes advantage of this fact and publishes its own (equally skewed) version of events and we are literally left between the devil and the deep blue sea

  9. Albert Ansah Oppong says:

    Yeah Mike, reportage on climate change [in Ghana] has increased a bit but we still need more with local content.

  10. Papia says:

    I work with a research and advocacy institution based in New Delhi, and we have been tracking the climate change negotiations quite closely. I also work a lot with journalists as I am a part of the media team.

    The English national dailies have the resource to travel and track negotiations and thus are able to come out with reports and articles which focuses on India and South Asia in subjective terms. It is very rare that a western press release is reproduced in the papers. The regional newspapers does not cover climate change with as much vigor as the nationals do.

    The interest in climate change has definitely gone up, but it is largely research by local journalists with value adds from local organisation studying impacts etc of climate change

  11. LAWRENCE SEATON KWALAR says:

    It is true climate change reporting has gone up in Cameroon since the past few years. More and more papers are getting involved. But, what impact has it got for a population that does not think that reading a newspaper is as important as watching TV or listening to the radio?

    Cameroonians read very little. Maybe if you involved the audio visuals in the fight, the impact would be felt. Thank you for the great job you are doing and keep it up.

  12. It’s my personal view that the media, especially in Africa, has not done enough to maximize campaigns against climate change, in terms of research and publications. Rather it has been so much obessed with politics to an extent that anything out of this will have no meaning in the public eyes. And the little stories published in the media are either poorly researched or carries little test in sensitizing the public about their role in promoting a healthy environment. But all the blame should be directed to media owners who seems to be more interested in making heavy profits than any other thing . Many media owners failed in motivating journalists who are interested in writing stories on climate change and environment to maximize their capacity in reporting more stories on these subjects.

  13. Ramesh Kumar says:

    I agree with what Papia has said about the Indian scenario. Unfortunately, the focus is mostly confined to mainstream ‘resource rich’ national media. The climate change issues need to be much more percolated into the local and regional media, as lot of things are happening at grass root level.

  14. kwadwo donkor says:

    Hi,
    I did similar research here in Ghana using my own paper (quite parochial?)— the Ghanaian Times — and I came to the same conclusion. Very little local contents. most of them the reports were culled from international sites. Nevertheless, as my compatriot Ansah Oppong said, we gradually gathering momentum and now there is lot of awareness on the subject. We journalists are also doing our best to educate our folks on the issue. It is rather unfortunate that we don’t have a strong science writers association here to spearhead the ‘fight’.

  15. Azore Opio says:

    In Cameroon, hardly any climate change news is reported if a foreign official doesn’t make a statement in that direction or dispatches a press release to that effect, which, as Mike states, is published verbatim without local colour. I attribute this to the inadequacy and sometimes total lack of resources for investigation.

  16. ugochi anyaka says:

    In Nigeria, I think journalists depend more on international news when it comes to the science and new research, but on the effects, adaptation, mitigation and even a degree of REDD reporting, journalists bring it home, especially in recent times. I don’t see an African, Asian etc journalist who would tell a story of the effects on Africa, with international scenes and people.

  17. Syful Islam says:

    It was really funny to see that none of the Bangladeshi newspapers were scrutinized in the research, though Bangladesh is found most vulnerable to climate catastrophe.

    • mikeshanahan says:

      Hi Syful
      Can you share some insights into how well the media in Bangladesh (not just newspapers) is making climate change relevant to local audiences there?

  18. The kind of reactions I am reading from this site shows how little issues of climate change and global warming have been tackled in Africa. We must agree that as much as many of us may pretend to have achieved a lot from lobbyings and negotiations on both local and international policies on climate change, it is outrightly clear that African media have done little in promoting local contents. Much of stories being published locally have a lot of foreign contents. African media must now unite and intiate a common ground on how journalists can develop local content on issues concerning global warming and climate change.

  19. Juliet says:

    It is transition year in Nigeria and politics has become the most topical issue. Climate change reporting has dropped compared to what the trend was in 2009 and early 2010. However some corporate organizations in Nigeria like local banks and some development partners have tried to help keep the climate talk alive on the pages of newspapers through sponsored pages that deal on the topic. Lack of local voice and local angle in story context remain a challenge.

  20. Gradiah Walker says:

    I am from Liberia and I can assure you that the Liberian media barely covers topics on climate change and global warming. Most of the population are either scarcely informed or ignorant about these issues. Whatever is published is copied directly from Western media outlets.

  21. Kalala Karumba says:

    In my country (Democratic Republic of Congo), the newspapers are not publishing more stories on climate change because:

    1. Journalists don’t have financial sponsor to print newspapers and to support visits to the fields/forests to fetch information
    2. Many people avoid being journalists due by their security risks (we are in insecurity when we report on climate change abuses)
    3. And, this activity is not financially profitable. The majority of people are poor and illiterate (in villages) so don’t have fund to buy newspapers.

    Our journalist team has been publishing “REVUE Maliga” on environment and food security; and we have to send our publication to France for recycling.

    We can face insecurity — arrests or threats — when we publish in our newspapers monitoring on cutting forest trees, killing wild animals and when rich men and decision makers expropriate land.

  22. Saiful Islam says:

    To me, climate change stories in Bangladesh are mostly confined within events — press conference, study publication, seminars or conferences. There are some stories from international conferences as well. But seldom I see stories from the local levels and from diverse angles — such as climate change affecting forestry, agriculture, livelihoods etc. Most stories are still focusing on ‘threats’ from climate change and its visible impacts — floods and cyclones. I think there room for projecting stories from diverse angles on diverse issues, especially on community-level adaptations.

  23. Some of these are great views, and the increased coverage of climate change is welcome. But some people are commenting on a research with “I think”.

    Unless I had done a similar research in my country (Uganda), I wouldn’t really say whether the increased coverage of climate change has mostly been foreign messages or not and whether there was localised content (and the extent). It is not good to just “think about it”. Research on it would be more dependable, just like Max Boykoff and Maria Mansfield decided to study the trends in the newspapers they did.

    These feelings and thoughts (not backed by data) as expressed in most reactions to this post hardly give us a good picture in any country, and can not guide actions for a better way forward.

  24. Guy Edwards says:

    Thanks for the interesting post on this. I had a look at the newspapers which make up the chart and could not find any from South America even though there are a number of newspapers published in the region which write in English. I also only saw a couple of papers from Africa mainly in South Africa. This made me wonder how reliable the data is for South America and Africa. I emailed Professor Boykoff about this to ask whether he could shed some more details on this issue. In the meantime if anyone else has any clues that would be helpful.

    On a separate note, at an event last week on climate change & Latin America, Professor Virgilio Viana commented that the coverage of climate change in Brazil is interesting as very little attention is paid to skeptics.

    This raises another question on how many of the newspaper articles covered in this survey are skeptical of the science or simply mention ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’.

  25. I run AlertNet Climate, a Reuters Foundation website on the humanitarian and development impacts of climate change that is now publishing a lot of pieces reported and written by climate change journalists in Africa, Asia, Latin America. The ideas come from the journalists themselves. But figuring out how to get this material into local publications remains a challenge, not least because of language difficulties and plain lack of time. I’d love to hear any ideas any of you might have.
    Always happy to hear from new potential writers, by the way….

  26. Yvette Appiah says:

    Interesting. More work indeed needs to be done. It’s time for developing countries to appreciate internal work by journalists to promote more local content, and consequently address local environmental and climate change issues.

  27. Gopi Warrier says:

    The issue is about linkage, Mike. In India there are many stories on the international perspective of climate change, and the national government’s response and policy changes. On the other hand, there are many local stories on deforestation, green technologies, etc. More often than not, these two don’t link with each other. The linkage that a micro event is part of a larger macro development is lost in reporting.

    Unfortunately there is this break in linkage in the entire climate change narrative, and media stories are only a part of it. Last year this time there were two important stories high on everybody’s mind – the floods in Pakistan and the fires in Russia. However, I don’t think I saw a story that linked both these to climate change. Now you cannot blame only the journalists for that. Hardly a scientist made a conclusive statement with the linkage. Somewhere we all shy at making that linkage. And as long as that continues, there will be stories at the macro level quoting IPCC or international discussions, national policies, etc., and ground-level stories living mutually exclusive lives.

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