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Mapping the media contours of global risks: a comparison of the reporting of climate change and terrorism in the British press

Dando, Victoria Worland 2014. Mapping the media contours of global risks: a comparison of the reporting of climate change and terrorism in the British press. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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"Without techniques of visualization, without symbolic forms, without mass media…risks are nothing at all.” (Beck, 2006: 332) There is considerable disparity in the media's profile, prominence and portrayal of climate change when measured against the issue's evidence base. Warming of the climate system is unequivocal (IPCC, 2013: 4) with unprecedented levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (ibid: 11), which are extremely likely to have been caused by human activities (ibid: 17). At its unchecked worst, climate change has the capacity to "alter the sustainability of life on earth as we know it" (Lewis, 2012: 260). In order “[t]o manage the grave risks of climate change effectively, the world must build a zero carbon energy system by the second half of this century” (Green & Stern, 2014: 9). Despite these warnings, climate change has failed to align with news agendas in the UK. Its visibility and presentation in the media is significantly awry with scientific, technical and socio-economic predictions. Instead, terrorism and the threat facing the West from Islamic extremists has commanded more media attention and been treated with greater urgency and less scrutiny than climate change (Lewis, 2012: 260). Whilst it is at odds with research, which indicate that terrorism is a minor, among global threats (Abbott et al, 2006: 4), Islamic-terrorism has come to calibrate the definition of ‘risk’ in the modern Western world. Parallels are drawn between the differing treatment of climate change and terrorism in the media and in political responses (see for example Lewis, 2012; Sunstein, 2006; Kahan, 2013), but no research has yet empirically compared the disparity in media coverage of these risks in more detail. This research addresses that gap and presents the findings of a content analysis designed to comparatively examine reporting of climate change and terrorism over a 14-year period (from January 1999-December 2012) in five British newspapers – The Guardian, The Times, the Daily Mirror, The Independent and the Daily Mail. As a result, this study finds that climate change is 'undone' by the lack of a strong, grand narrative in the British press, with the issue defined in some instances according to a newspaper's ideological position. The terrorism media narrative is concentrated around incident and response while climate change is diffuse, and the discourse of action offset by the alignment of the issue as a predominantly future based risk with financial implications. Competing and antagonistic messages between climate change and terrorism in the media present ‘others’ simultaneously as both victim and enemy, while climate change is also often the subject of debate. Discursive ownership of climate change, when compared to terrorism, is disparate as is the impact of the issue, which lacks a British hallmark. This research argues that what the media says matters (Lewis, 2012: 268). Recalibrating climate change into a concentrated narrative that joins causes, impact and action may have positive implications for those at the forefront of climate communication: scientists, academics and charities/pressure groups. I suggest that comparing risks rather than addressing them individually and taking a 'politicized reading' of newspaper reporting (Carvalho, 2007: 240) may further our understanding of the representation of global risks in the media.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Journalism, Media and Culture
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1990 Broadcasting
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2017 08:07

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