Dangerous news: media decision-making about climate change risk

Smith, Joe (2005). Dangerous news: media decision-making about climate change risk. Risk Analysis, 25(6) pp. 1471–1482.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2005.00693.x


This article explores the role of broadcast news media decisionmakers in shaping public understanding and debate of climate change risks. It locates the media within a "tangled web" of communication and debate between sources, media, and publics. The article draws on new qualitative research in the British context. The main body of it focuses on media source strategies, on climate change storytelling in news, and the "myth of detachment" sustained by many news decisionmakers. The empirical evidence, gathered between 1997 and 2004, is derived primarily from recordings and notes drawn from a series of seminars that has brought together equal numbers of BBC news and television decisionmakers and environment/development specialists. The seminars have created a rare space for extended dialogue between media and specialist perspectives on the communication of complex climate change science and policy. While the article acknowledges the distinctive nature of the BBC as a public sector broadcaster, the evidence confirms and extends current understanding of the career of climate change within the media more broadly. The working group discussions have explored issues arising out of how stories are sourced and, in the context of competitive and time-pressured newsrooms, shaped and presented in short news pieces. Particularly significant is the disjuncture between ways of talking about uncertainty within science and policy discourse and media constructions of objectivity, truth, and balance. The article concludes with a summary of developments in media culture, technology, and practice that are creating opportunities for enhanced public understanding and debate of climate change risks. It also indicates the need for science and policy communities to be more active critics and sources of news.

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