Canadian Journal of Communication Vol 41 (2016)
©2016 Canadian Journal of Communication Corporation


Review

Sibo Chen
Simon Fraser University


Media Meets ClimateMedia Meets Climate: The Global Challenge for Journalism. Edited by Elisabeth Eide & Risto Kunelius. Göteborg, SE: Nordicom, 2012. 340 pp. ISBN 9789186523510 (pbk).


Climate change presents some of the most urgent challenges for journalism today. Any casual glimpse at news headlines reveals how the current practices of media institutions are situated in climate change, with its associated economic, political, and social issues heatedly debated on a daily basis between the lines of news stories. Media Meets Climate: The Global Challenge for Journalism, edited by Elisabeth Eide and Risto Kunelius, focuses on how the emerging global challenges imposed by climate change are mediated across the world and how journalism interacts with these challenges. Based upon research from the MediaClimate project (see Eide, Kunelius, & Kumpu, 2010), this volume takes a comparative look at news coverage of global climate negotiations, primarily the Copenhagen and Durban summits in 2009 and 2011. The empirical data mainly consist of summit reports by mainstream newspapers across 18 countries, and the analyses offer refreshing and valuable transnational insights into the complex and juxtaposing themes of global environmental politics.

As the editors suggest in Chapter 1, contemporary journalistic practices have not, to a large extent, been able to take full advantage of the climate summits since many news reports involve a substantive degree of nationalistic domestication. Many journalists tend to present the political struggles of climate negotiations based on their “own” politicians, non-governmental organization (NGO) leaders, and scientists. The sense of globalism, in this regard, has been “lost in translation” in the nation-based frames. As such, the remaining 17 chapters of the book address the global and discursive questions underlying the current dialogues on climate change. These chapters are grouped into three parts. Part I, “Global Discourses,” addresses the general dynamics of discourses found in summit reports. Chapter 2 presents a conceptual map for categorizing arguments of climate politics. This chapter argues that public climate discourses can be roughly distinguished within two dichotomies: the ecocentric perspective versus the anthropocentric perspective and realism versus constructivism. Chapter 3 focuses on journalistic practice in the context of the global south. Using Egypt and South Africa as examples, this chapter points out the challenges in linking global environmental politics with local political reality and everyday experience. Chapter 4 addresses summit coverage through an extensive and quantitative content analysis of global news flows. The key finding is that old routines and the structural dependency of the news industry are still visible in the summit coverage, which renders the effect of environmental journalism, as power elites still exert influence over news stories. Chapter 5 examines the discursive dynamics within the news coverage of the Norwegian Climate and Forest Initiative in its donor country (Norway) and two largest recipients (Brazil and Indonesia). By illustrating the controversies observed in the examined stories, the chapter argues that it is necessary to add the postcolonial critical perspective into the current global environmental debates. Chapter 6 takes a comparative look at the future imagined in the coverage of climate summits between Bangladesh and Finland. While the Bangladeshi coverage is deeply embedded in the idea that the country’s future hinges upon the outcomes of the summit negotiations, the Finnish coverage takes a more objective gradualist approach to climate change by emphasizing potential mechanisms for future climate adaptation.

Moving from the discursive aspect of journalistic practices, Part II takes a closer look at the professional tensions and challenges faced by journalists when covering climate change issues. Chapter 7 reviews the unprecedented move during the Copenhagen summit by the editors of Guardian in Britain, who led the publication of the same editorial in 56 newspapers across 45 countries to urge political actions on climate change. As this chapter persuasively shows, the publication of this special editorial illustrates how texts generated in specific national contexts may become more global through transnational collaborations. Chapter 8 returns to the Bangladeshi context and addresses the question of advocacy journalism in climate coverage. The discussion in this chapter illustrates how traditional journalistic principles may conflict with journalism’s ideals when reporting on the urgency of climate change. Meanwhile, reporting on the controversial voices on climate change also presents a series of challenges to the traditional norm of journalistic objectivity. Chapter 9 analyzes Norwegian and Russian media coverage of the “Climategate” incident (the controversies surrounding the leaked emails and documents from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia), which indicates how climate science often gives way to politics along with the rise of skeptic voices. Chapter 10 discusses the issue of professional accountability with regard to the public debates on the introduction of a carbon tax in Australia, focusing on the success of the dramatic and partisan frame imposed by carbon lobbyist groups. Chapter 11 explores the diffuse nature of the new media landscape by mapping out the online news networks that emerged during climate summits. The analyses of this chapter demonstrate the increasing overlap between traditional and online fields of journalistic production.

The depiction of various social actors in international environmental politics is another focal point of climate summit coverage. Part III offers a series of analyses that delineate the issues of representation and identity during climate summits. Chapter 12 addresses the visualization of climate change in news coverage from both realist and constructivist perspectives. It shows how the invisibility of many climate change threats poses a particular problem for visual journalism. Chapter 13 presents a Gramscian analysis of climate justice in summit coverage. By assessing the representation of civic activism at the summits, the chapter illustrates the potential conflicts between the grassroots voices and the hegemonic frame of mainstream journalism. In contrast to the objective and less-engaged tone of “quality” newspapers, some alternative media, despite their tabloid nature, may serve and represent a broader public. Chapter 14 takes this perspective by examining how “popular” newspapers in South Africa and Brazil opened up communicative spaces for a broader range of voices during international climate negotiations. Based on the empirical observation that women’s voices are grossly under-represented in global climate politics, Chapter 15 takes up the hidden gender bias found in the climate summit coverage and explores women’s potential as guardians and providers for the future direction of environmentalism. Chapter 16 evaluates the representation of Arctic indigenous peoples in Canadian and Swedish coverage during climate summits. The general absence of indigenous voices in the analyzed materials suggests an urgent marginalization issue that requires critical reflections for future environmental journalism. Finally, Chapter 17 summarizes the main findings of the overall content analysis by the MediaClimate project, and Chapter 18 ends the whole volume with a short epilogue looking at further challenges for transnational media research.

Taken together, the chapters presented in Media Meets Climate highlight the increasing complexity of environmental journalism and the necessity of more transnational research within environmental communication. In many ways the empirical observations offered by this volume confirm the theoretical models of other influential titles in environmental communication (e.g., Anderson, 2010; Lester, 2010), and as such, it would be informative reading for academics in the fields of communication, journalism, and environmental studies. Interested readers will find that the attention given to countries in the global south and the critical comparative perspectives of many chapters are informative and refreshing. In addition, Chapter 2 and Chapter 12 would be particularly interesting for readers looking for theoretical models of environmental discourse. Another impressive piece within the volume is Chapter 7, in which the author goes beyond the text and engages with the hidden issues behind news coverage.

Meanwhile, the overall structure of the book tends to be somewhat fragmentary. It could have benefitted from a more comprehensive and less condensed conclusion that connects the main findings of individual chapters. In addition, some readers may find the exclusive focus on climate summits a little disappointing, since it fails to depict a comprehensive picture of the fundamental economic, political, and social implications for human civilization imposed by climate change. With all that being said, this volume’s overall purpose is still well achieved and it has made a valuable contribution to the study of environmental communication.

References

Eide, Elisabeth, Kunelius, Risto, & Kumpu, Ville. (2010). Global climate, local journalisms: A transnational study of how media make sense of climate summits. Bochum/Freiburg, DE: Projekt Verlag.

Hansen, Anders. (2010). Environment, media and communication. New York, NY; London, UK: Routledge.

Lester, Libby. (2010). Media and environment: Conflict, politics and the news. Malden, MA; Cambridge, UK: Polity.





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