Do Developing Nation Journalists Cover Climate Science Better (or at Least Better Than U.S. and U.K. Papers)?

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As the European debt crisis scrapes along, there has been talk about the possible need for developing nations, like China and Brazil, to ultimately help bail out some spendthrift “developed” nations.

A new study suggests that maybe they should also help bail out some of our media.

The study comes from James Painter of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University and his colleagues. After looking extensively at climate change coverage in major papers in six nations—the U.S., UK, France, Brazil, China, and India—the paper finds that global warming “skepticism” is “largely an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon.”

Consider a selection of findings:

1.      80 percent of all quotations of climate “skeptics” were in U.S. and U.K. publications.

2.      40 percent of the articles including “skeptic” perspectives were opinion articles, and again, these were much less common in France, Brazil, China and India.

3.      These skeptical opinion articles were clustered in conservative papers in the U.S. and U.K. (Wall Street Journal, Telegraph), but not in the other countries.

4.      In France, Brazil, China, and India, the politics of a paper didn’t relate to the prevalence of climate skepticism. The reality of global warming just isn’t the subject of political dispute in these nations, and their media reflect that.

5.      Overall, “skeptic” perspectives were more likely to be articulated by politicians than by “skeptic” scientists, and politician-skeptic voices were once again overwhelmingly clustered in the U.S. and the U.K.

Here are the papers studied, by country: Brazil (Folha de São Paulo, Estado de São Paulo), China (People’s Daily, Beijing Evening News), France (Le Monde, Le Figaro), India (Times of India, The Hindu). In the U.S., the study examined The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. In the U.K., there was a very extensive look at all ten of the national papers.

Given all of this, I know what you’re really wondering: Which country wins the overall climate journalism responsibility and competence prize?

Drum roll…it’s Brazil, whose papers contained the least climate skepticism. China also didn’t have much, but that’s harder to get too thrilled about, because of course journalists in that country were following the government line.

So here’s a thought experiment: What if we restaffed the Wall Street Journal editorial page with journalists from Brazil? I’d certainly lift a caipirinha to that!

Australia was not included in the study, but you would imagine that it would be more consistent with the U.S.-U.K., “Anglo-Saxon” trend. 

For me, it is tough not to think about this finding in the context of two other major global developments:

1) the increasing dominance of developing countries in clean energy–especially China, but Brazil is a big contender here as well;

2) the increasing competitiveness of developing nations, and especially China and India, in global science and research.

Basically, then, take these new findings about climate skepticism as yet another sign that  countries that used to be in the rearview mirror are now either even with, or passing the U.S. by on the highway to the future.

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