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Report: Media Underreports Global Climate Protests, Stunting Public Debate

Nov. 3, 2017

Report: Media Underreports Global Climate Protests, Stunting Public Debate

By Ignoring Major Demonstrations Around the World, Newspapers Stymie Progress on Climate Action

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Mainstream U.S. news outlets are failing to cover major climate protests and other grassroots actions around the world, stifling public debate, according to a new report (PDF) from Public Citizen.

“[M]edia coverage that ignores popular voices distorts public perceptions, creating the impression that there is significantly less support for action than actually exists,” the report states. “When the media ignore major demonstrations in support of climate solutions, they put a thumb on the scale favoring inaction.”

“Silent Protest: U.S. Media Coverage of Demonstrations Surrounding U.N. Climate Conferences Abroad” examines mainstream coverage of demonstrations and other actions during the United Nations’ annual climate conferences from 2010 to 2016. The Conferences of the Parties (COPs) were held around the world and drew significant crowds of protesters, including an 800-person march in Qatar in what was thought to be the first demonstration in that nation’s history.

However, coverage of these large-scale events in mainstream U.S. media was minimal. During the six-year period, among 15 major newspapers and outlets – The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the Denver Post, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the New York Post, USA Today, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News Network and MSNBC – only a single news piece ran that was squarely devoted to a demonstration surrounding a COP. In all, just 30 pieces spent even one sentence on demonstrations or activism. Seven of the 15 outlets – the Boston Globe, the New York Post, USA Today, ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox News Network – did not report on demonstrations at all.

Collectively, 80 percent of the coverage fell into one of three categories: mere photo captions, discussions of demonstrations being canceled or accusations against activists. Among the published pieces, 10 of the mentions, or 33 percent, appeared only in photo captions accompanying articles that did not discuss demonstrations.

Another eight pieces, or 27 percent, focused only on protests being barred at the 2015 Paris COP in the wake of a terrorist attack. Another six concerned accusations of wrongdoing against activists. “The dearth of coverage of major demonstrations around the COPs is a disservice to the public,” the report states. “It likely depresses public perceptions of concern over the climate crisis and support for solutions, in turn heightening the barriers to responding to the crisis.”

Read the report (PDF).