Sceptical Climate Part 1: Climate Change Policy 2011

Climate change policy has dominated Australian politics in recent years. While journalists often criticise others for poor communication, they should also be accountable for how they communicate climate change. This Australian Centre for Independent Journalism report analyses how ten publications in mainstream corporate media covered carbon policy for six months in 2011.

Table of Contents

1. Preface by report author Wendy Bacon

There are few media stories in which there is such an obvious public interest as that of climate change.

There is no doubt that the subject has been well covered by the media. In 2009 no topic occupied more media attention in Australia (Media Monitors, 2009) and in 2011 climate policy has again been very high on the Australian domestic news agenda. The quantity of the coverage, however, tells us little about the quality of that coverage.

While media often criticises others for poor communication, journalists too carry responsibility for communicating both the science and policy of climate change to the public. The way in which the media represents issues and news sources influences and to some extent, produces public opinion.

The Australian Centre for Independent Journalism’s research work on climate change is part of the Global Environmental Initiative (GEJI), a partnership of nine tertiary institutions in Australia and Europe working on research and teaching about the environment and media.

Our Australian partners include the University of Technology Sydney, Monash University and the University of Tasmania, and in Europe, City University (United Kingdom), Helsinki University and the Danish School of Media and Journalism.

As well as developing environmental journalism projects, we have conducted research into the media’s role in reporting on climate change and the environment.

This project aims to provide more information about the quality of reporting on climate change. How well is the Australian media performing its role in reporting the issue of climate change? Are Australian audiences receiving adequate and accurate information? Is the selection and treatment of sources and the representation of viewpoints and evidence fair, accurate and balanced? Does the media provide a forum for debate and a range of sources?

Two reports will be published. This, the first, is on the coverage of climate change policy. The second will focus on climate science coverage.

These reports are timely. The Australian government has set up an Independent Media Inquiry into the Australian print and online media, (2011).

This Inquiry is seeking to establish whether there are issues, which affect the Australian media’s ability to act in the public interest and whether current standards and codes of practice fulfill their goals of pursuit of truth, and ‘fair and accurate’ reporting.

As I have already argued in a submission to the inquiry, the quality of reporting on the critical issue of climate change provides a litmus test in seeking answers to the Inquiry’s terms of reference.

Professor Wendy Bacon, December 1, 2011

Wendy Bacon is a Professor of Journalism based at the ACIJ of which she is a former director. In recent years, she has published in the SMH, The Age,, The Conversation and New Matilda. She has also published in Pacific Journalism Review, Australian Journalism Review and Media International Australia.