Over the past 15 years, newspapers have been 90% accurate on climate change reporting, according to a study published in Environmental Research Letters.
The researchers, who are based in the US, found that print media reporting on climate change in five countries (the US, UK, New Zealand, Australia and Canada) was becoming less biased and more scientifically accurate, although some conservative media outlets lagged behind.
“Two decades ago, print media frequently gave equal credence to both legitimate climate experts and outlier climate deniers. But we found in more recent years that the media around the globe actually got it right most of the time,” says Dr Lucy McAllister, lead author on the study.
The researchers examined 5,000 newspaper articles, each published in one of 17 outlets between 2005 and 2019.
“Nine out of ten media stories accurately reported the science on human contributions to climate change,” says McAllister. “It’s not portrayed as a two-sided debate anymore.”
The researchers did find, however, that “historically conservative” outlets – such the Daily Telegraph in Australia – were significantly less accurate. Some world events, such as the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, also had a negative effect on accuracy.
This accuracy represents a shift in media coverage of climate change. In 2004, one of the researchers (Max Boykoff, an associate professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, US) co-authored a similar study that found very different results. In 2004, Boykoff found that US media outlets consistently reported both climate denial and climate science in a “balanced” manner, leading to biased overall coverage of climate change by implying that both views had equal evidence in favour of them.
“Many continue to cite the 2004 Max Boykoff and Jules Boykoff article – with data ending in 2002 – as evidence of persistent bias in the media,” says McAllister. “An updated analysis was critically needed.”
Boykoff, who is also a co-author on this study, says that while the updated research shows outlets are now covering climate change more accurately, this isn’t cause for complacency.
“The terrain of climate debates has largely shifted in recent years away from mere denial of human contributions to climate change to a more subtle and ongoing undermining of support for specific policies meant to substantially address climate change,” he says.
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Ellen Phiddian is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a BSc (Honours) in chemistry and science communication, and an MSc in science communication, both from the Australian National University.
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