Global Media & Crises: Media and Climate Change

“Why do you want save the world from climate change?”

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Jari Lyytimäki observed that media is an important tool to increase the public’s understanding on topical and complex issues that affect the entire globe such as climate change. Climate change is most definitely a global action, but one that not only requires international and global action but requires us to think in a global viewpoint but act locally in order to take steps towards action. The medium of the media of the world is what can achieve this reaction rather than talk of action. The media, and the method and ethical code of how journalists report in it, greatly impact and mould our impression on how the issues is being represented. For too long there has been debate and discussion  on what the leading issue the world is facing is, with some inflaming in the immediate mindset, but others in the long term view set. Obama’s powerful speech to the UN on the climate change summit brought to light that for all the “immediate challenges” one will indelibly  define this century, and that is the “urgent and growing threat of climate change”

Journalistic ethic codes date back to the 20’s, and though have changed slightly as the way we report has changed, the message remains intact:

1. Seek truth and report it
2. be honest, fair and courageous in gathering and interpreting information
3. act independently
4. be accountable to their readers, and each other
5. be the voice for the voiceless
6. support the exchange of views, even views they find factually inaccurate
6. avoid entangling alliances, i.e. avoid being an observer and participant in a story so as to avoid influence and remain reporting objectively.

And this is where the ethical codes begin to blur and bend. How can a reporter avoid ‘entangling alliances’, when reporting on climate change, and avoid a direst personal interest in having clean air and water or a liveable climate when an issue such as this will directly impact our own health, well being and quality of life?

Another issue in the reporting on climate change resides in the ethic ‘rule’ of giving voices to the voiceless and the exchange of all viewpoints on an issue for open discussion. In doing so, reporting gave equal weighting and space to the voices of those who accept the science standpoint on climate change, and the opposing and contradicting voices as well. Here created as Ward described a ‘false balance’ were more weighting was given to views than one could deem they deserve. Of the so 90% of who believe the imperativeness of climate change against the minority who deny it, both are represented with the same time, research, and reporting. The intention to ‘support the exchange of views’ creates this false balance as they seek the time old ‘tell both sides of the story’ mantra, and in doing so amplifies the small group of sceptics to the same standing as credible scientists’ with cold, hard facts.

As Ward argues, the issue of ethics in journalism reporting on climate change goes much farther than this. Ward poses, what if the ‘worst case scenario’ of the effects and impacts of climate change occur? What then, after posing great risks to extinctions, forced human mingrations from low-lying areas, are the ethical responsibilities in reporting? Is it the duty of journalists to continue battling the ‘climate fatigue’ and fight for awareness and action, rather than the continued media representation of debating, questioning and uncertainty? There still exists the generalised notion, most likely an indirect by product of this,  that climate change is the future generations’ problem, not ours. Because we lack the direct connection, or direct threat like the people of Kiribati face as sea levels rise, we lack the urgency to act. We are increasingly asked to understand and respond to these global challenges that are required to take us further than the local mindset, issues and challenges that we only understand through the media. Therefore, the first step in defeating climate change still needs to be taken. To change our mindset from viewing the effects to reacting and acting to them, the media holds the power to educate us on why we need to act and wake us up from this ‘climate fatigue’. In order to educate us, journalists need to re-establish and re-affirm the balance of voices they represent, whilst maintaining the ‘open exchange of views’.



Ward, B 2009, ‘Journalism ethics and climate change reporting in a period of intense media uncertainty’, Ethics in Science and Environmental Politics, vol. 9, no. 13, p.14

Lyytimäki, J 2009, ‘Mulling over the Climate Debate: Media Education on Climate Change’, Journal of Sustainable Development, vol 2. no. 3

Kenny, M Cox L, 2014 ”Bigger threat than terrorism’: Barack Obama signals Australia, India and China must improve on climate change’, Sydney Morning Herald, pp1

SPJ ‘Code of Ethics‘ Society of Professional Journalists, revised 2014