Australian Media and Reporting of the Carbon Price Debate

By Stephan Lewandowsky
Professor, School of Experimental Psychology and Cabot Institute, University of Bristol
Posted on 1 December 2011
Filed under Media

Professor Wendy Bacon and a team of researchers have published a report on the coverage of climate change in the Australian media.

The research is based on a comprehensive review of 3971 media articles which were published in ten Australian newspapers on the topic of climate change policy, during the period February 2011 and July 2011. 

Key Findings of the research are at the front of the report. They include:

  • Overall coverage: Negative coverage of the government’s carbon pricing proposal outweighed positive coverage by 73% to 27%. Negative coverage across News Ltd newspapers far outweighed positive coverage by 82% to 18%.
  • Headlines were less balanced than the actual content of articles, with neutral articles more likely to be headlined negative (41%) than positive (19%).
  • Language: 51% of articles used only the term “carbon tax” to describe the policy, whilst 11% used only the term “carbon price”. This pattern was more obvious in several News Ltd publications (e.g. The Courier Mail was 70% to 8% on this measure). “Carbon tax” was generally the preferred term for opponents of the policy, whereas proponents preferred the term “carbon price”.
  • Sources: Business sources received more coverage than all civil society sources together, including unions, NGOs, think tanks, activists, members of the public, religious spokespeople, scientists and academics. Fossil fuel lobby and other businesses opposed to the policy received very strong representation, whereas clean energy and other businesses in support of the policy received low coverage.
  • Editorial: 46% of editorials were negative, compared to 23% positive. 31% were neutral.

For more details, there is an article on The Conversation, which includes a notable reply from News Ltd. For scholars of self-awareness (or lack thereof), the reply is particularly worth reading.

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Comments 1 to 4:

  1. The reply by Greg Baxter has to be seen to be believed. I'd argue he's perfectly self-aware, he just doesn't care - and will point to his organisation's 'success' as validation of his point of view.
  2. Stephan Lewandowsky at 16:30 PM on 1 December, 2011
    @1: That is an on-going mystery. Do they know what they are doing? I am not sure.

    News folks certainly don't know that their protestations are meaningless in light of the evidence: They fundamentally do not understand that actions are measurable evidence that outweighs whatever self-perception they may hold about their own motives.

    As astounding as that may appear, I think they are genuine in their ignorance in this regard.
  3. Stephan, I'll Devil's Advocate again and suggest that News Ltd would argue their protestations are 'meaningless' as they've got the numbers to show they are driving the debate. You may say actions are measurable evidence but as far as they are concerned, it's the delivery of that message not the content that the populace care about.

    As I'm sure you're aware, this has been a fundamental underpinning of the 'war' between conservative and progressive media for decades and unfortunately (from my POV anyway) it's one that conservative media seems to be winning.

    *Facts* only count for people already predisposed to accept the premise they are important, so when an audience is programmed to respond to delivery over content their validation is a matter of spin as opposed to reason.
  4. Stephan Lewandowsky at 18:29 PM on 1 December, 2011
    I agree that facts typically do not matter to those who are ideologically driven (e.g.

    This isn't entirely a progressive-v-conservative issue, though; there are progressives who are ideologically blinkered as well. But because conservatives are far more vocal in the media and tend to be vastly over-represented in influential circles, their "fact disability" is more visible and more damaging to society overall.
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