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A study of how television news covered three reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) during 2013 and 2014 shows that news bulletins tended to focus most on past or potential disaster in their telling of the story.

Is tv coverage of climate change too focused on disaster

TV news bulletins also gave much less air time to other potential focuses – the uncertainty surrounding climate change, the opportunities it presents and the explicit risks it presents, says the study published by Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University.

Similarities and differences were examined between the six countries: Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, India and the UK. The researchers found that references to disaster appeared prominently in both the story and in the headlines. Even though the IPCC had strongly emphasised ‘risk management’ in its communication efforts, risk was hardly mentioned.

Study author James Painter said: ‘It is not surprising that television does not do much on risk. Television needs pictures and strong engaging narratives to attract audiences. Disasters are full of them, while risks are more difficult to explain and harder to turn into stories.’

‘While doom-laden depictions of climate change are everywhere in the media, such narratives are not regarded as helpful in engaging and informing audiences about the issues behind climate change. TV is a hugely important medium for many audiences, so it will remain a major challenge to shift the dominant narratives around climate change.’

The study also finds there were important variations in how much attention the television channels paid to climate sceptics and the ‘warming pause’ (the lack of a significant rise in global average temperatures since 1998).

Read the full story on the University's website