Label’s Head of Social Media, Leah Langley, discusses why the news does not keep its focus on environmental disasters for long.

We have access to a vast amount of news streams 24 hours a day and yet it seems that environmental disasters disappear from our sources as quick as they appear. Why is this?

Several studies have shown that the media in the US, and the UK, significantly understate the strength of the scientific data surrounding climate change. In previous years, the biggest reports were made in 2017 following Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the 205 United Nations (UN) Paris Climate Agreement. There was continuing media attention paid following the G7 summit a few weeks later, but then it disappeared again. The media have only ever been interested in what will create the most interest, which is why we see climate change being fought for on a regular basis, as it is not deemed to be interesting enough to be reported on constantly. We often see huge catastrophes being publicised when the damage has already been done, or when we search for the information ourselves.

When the media are reporting on these disasters, we have to question whether what we are being told is even true. There is often inadequate scientific reporting in a bid to distort reality. There are more human-interest stories than scientific content stories and every media outlet adheres to the construct of balance coverage. W.L. Bennet stated that “Global disasters fall victim to the journalistic norm of ‘personalisation’ with the media downplaying the social, economic, or political picture in favour of human trials, tragedies, and triumphs.” The idea of balance coverage seems to make perfect sense when it comes to covering political conversation, but when it comes to climate disasters the reporting may not be fair nor truthful.

The media exploit extreme view which can lead to risks, well beyond the claims actually stated by scientists, being reported and this can often lead to scaremongering and fear amongst the general public. In these instances, the media often see a drop-in interest and their sales as the urgent tone and imagery of doom turns the public eye away. The environmental disasters that do stay in the news are those that are the most catastrophic and those that are the hardest to ignore. With climate disasters now happening at a rate of one a week, it might just be time to start reporting on the solid facts and gaining the public’s attention so that changes can be made before it is too late.


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