4.3 Themes

Very few of the items in the sample were exclusively focused on climate change or science (this will be further discussed in Section 6.2). It is therefore important to understand the context in which the references to climate change were located. A theme analysis was used to provide a broad sense of the context of the coverage and its framing. The theme of the entire item was coded, not just the sections relevant to climate change. The dominant theme was coded and then an additional theme, where relevant, was coded. 35% (2,971) of items had only one theme and were therefore single issue items.

Themes were:

4.3.1 Which themes were strongest in the coverage?

Figure 4.3.1.a: Figure showing totals and proportions of Theme One per News Corp publication from April 2019 to March 2020.
Figure 4.3.1.b: Figure showing totals and proportions of Theme Two per News Corp publication from April 2019 to March 2020.

Politics and policy dominate

In every type of item (i.e. news, features, opinion, etc), the political theme was dominant. In 25% of items for Theme One and in 18% for Theme Two, the thematic frame for the reference to climate was politics, usually political conflict. In 18% of items, this was the only frame.

The second strongest theme was the broad category of policy (17% in Theme One and 30% in Theme Two). Policy pieces were large in volume, but they were often in the context of political conflict.

The top combination of politics and policy was evident across all four publications and extended beyond the coverage of the federal election. This is consistent with previous research on Australian coverage of climate change that revealed a heavy focus on the political conflict over how Australia should address the reduction of fossil fuel emissions (Eide, 2010; Bacon, 2011). The political conflict over energy policy tends to drive the interpretation of climate change and science in these four News Corp Australia publications (see Sections 4.6 and 6.1).

Science and environment

Science and environment was the next highest theme with 11% of items in Theme One and 22% in Theme Two. These items are analysed further in Section 6.2. This category also included sceptical opinion, letters, and editorials that undermined or trivialised matters that have sound scientific basis. There were extremely low levels of articles about climate science as such. Rather than being reported or discussed as factual information about newsworthy developments, climate science was reduced to a matter of debate about ideological or political belief.

Movement and protest

Movement and protest was 15% of Theme One and 7% of Theme Two. Fifty-percent (847) of items relating to movement and protests were clustered in three months between September and November 2019 when nation-wide and global climate change protests were occurring. Further analysis will show that 68% of these items were negative towards protests. See Section 4.6.

Business, industry and agriculture

Business, industry, and agriculture were 12% in Theme One and only 7% in Theme Two. The Australian had a much stronger emphasis on business (18% in Theme 1) than the three tabloids (7%). This is further analysed in Section 6.3.

Extreme weather and natural disaster

Seventy-three percent (795) of these items were published between November 2019 and February 2020. Much of this coverage occurred in the context of the fire season and was part of the debate about the link between climate change and bushfires. Other forms of extreme weather including drought, floods, hurricanes, and heatwaves received little attention. These issues will be further analysed in Section 6.3.