"A Travesty Of Journalism": Experts React To Broadcast Networks' Decline In Climate Change Coverage

Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

Networks climate

It is nothing short of stunning that in 2015, a year that featured more newsworthy climate-related events than ever before, the broadcast networks' coverage of climate change declined. The networks have a responsibility to educate the public about the impacts that climate change is having on our security, our economy, and our health.

In response to Media Matters' new analysis of climate change coverage on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox in 2015, members of Congress, climate scientists, environmental advocates, and other experts criticized the networks for providing too little climate change coverage and too much climate science denial.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI): "In a year when nearly 200 countries around the world collectively recognized the threat of climate change and the United States made historic commitments to cut carbon pollution, major networks actually cut their media coverage of climate change. In 2015, the network Sunday shows devoted just 73 minutes to climate change, a ten percent decrease from the year before. What makes these findings even more troubling is the fact that with the little time devoted to climate change, these Sunday shows continued to mislead their audiences by including climate denial as part of the discussion. The facts are clear. Scientists, governments, and major corporations around the world have accepted the facts about climate change and are having real debates on solutions. In this consequential election year, it's time for news broadcasters to do the same."

Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY): "As the co-founder of the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, I read Media Matters' new study and it's a wake up call to the news networks. The most important long term global and national issue shouldn't be getting short-thrift. People need more information, not less."

Michael Mann, climate scientist at Penn State University: "It is unconscionable that so many purportedly mainstream media outlets continue to misinform the public when it comes to the matter of human-caused climate change. History will not look back kindly upon television news networks that had an opportunity to inform the public about this existential threat, and instead chose to serve as willing mouthpieces for denialist fossil fuel interests."

Kevin Trenberth, climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research: "These results are disturbing. ... It is evident that the networks are gun shy about climate change, most likely because advertisers demand it.  It is a very sad state of affairs that the science of climate change and the continuing evidence about it is hidden from listeners.  What is done about the problem should be a separate matter entirely from whether we have a problem. Climate change is already with us and is causing mostly adverse effects every day, but the public is not well informed."

Liz Perera, Sierra Club climate policy director: "This past year, we have seen unprecedented progress tackling the unprecedented danger that climate change poses to our families, yet the major networks seem to dedicate more time to covering the Kardashians than this public health crisis. Americans deserve to know the truth about how the climate crisis is affecting the world around us and how clean energy is helping solve the problem. Ignoring that reality only serves the interests of the big polluters and undermines the health and well-being of all American families."

David Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen's climate program: "It is beyond shocking that broadcast network coverage of climate change declined in 2015. If we don't act quickly to mitigate climate change, it will cause devastating harm to our economy, our health, and our security. Last year's high temperatures shattered the previous record, set just one year earlier. At the same time, 2015 was probably the most momentous year in history on climate change, with a landmark Paris deal, the Obama Administration's rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline, the first-ever federal rules curbing carbon pollution from power plants, the Pope's encyclical, and more. The media should be covering climate change as if it were World War III, and they have plenty of material to work with. It's a travesty of journalism to commit such a small and declining amount of air time to the existential threat we face from runaway greenhouse gas emissions."

Riley Dunlap, environmental sociologist at Oklahoma State University: "I am not surprised that there was more TV coverage of climate change denial in 2015, as historically there is a pattern of the 'denial machine' ramping up its efforts whenever the possibility of meaningful action on climate change seems imminent.  This began with the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, and has continued, so I'm not surprised to see more coverage of denialists last year because of the Paris [climate agreement].  The conservative think tanks and front groups behind the denial campaign, and the small number of contrarian scientists aligned with them, have great success in obtaining media exposure in general.  And they really go into overdrive when they fear that national legislation or an international treaty could be enacted.  The disappointing thing is that mainstream media still give them a forum."

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