Demanding stories: television coverage of sustainability, climate change and material demand

Smith, Joe (2017). Demanding stories: television coverage of sustainability, climate change and material demand. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 375(2095) pp. 1–16.



This paper explores the past, present and future role of broadcasting, above all via the medium of television, in shaping how societies talk, think about and act on climate change and sustainability issues. The paper explores these broad themes via a focus on the important but relatively neglected issue of material demand and opportunities for its reduction. It takes the outputs and decision-making of one of the world’s most influential broadcasters, the BBC, as its primary focus. The paper considers these themes in terms of stories, touching on some of the broader societal frames of understanding into which they can be grouped. Media decision-makers and producers from a range of genres frequently return to the centrality of ‘story’ in the development, commissioning and production of an idea. With reference to specific examples of programming, and drawing on interviews with media practitioners, the paper considers the challenges of generating broadcast stories that can inspire engagement in issues around climate change, and specifically material demand. The concluding section proposes actions and approaches that might help to establish material demand reduction as a prominent way of thinking about climate change and environmental issues more widely.
This article is part of the themed issue ‘Material demand reduction’.

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