2. Key Findings
This summary contains key points from the report, with links to the relevant sections and data from which the findings are drawn.
Although this report covers a different time period, the key findings for this study of ten Australian newspapers from February to April in both 2011 and 2012 can be considered in light of the key findings of Sceptical Climate Part One.
Part One of our study found the coverage of climate change in Australia in 2011 was mostly framed within a vociferous political debate about climate change policy. Many stories about climate change policy made no significant reference to climate science at all. (See Section 4.2).
The focus of this study is the coverage of climate science. It includes all articles between February and April 2011 and the same period in 2012 that mentioned the findings of climate science. Some of these stories are also framed within the debate about climate change policy. Others mention climate science findings in the context of other environmental issues. Other focus on climate scientists or climate science research findings.
Quantity of climate science
There were 602 articles across the two three-month periods in ten publications that made significant reference to climate science.
Just under one third of 602 articles did not accept the scientific consensus that human beings are major contributors to global warming. See Section 4.6
35% of stories that made significant mentions of climate science did so in the context of climate change policy. See Section 4.2
There was a decrease of nearly 20% in articles referencing climate science in ten publications between February and April in 2012 compared to the same period in 2011. See Section 4.2
There was a marked difference in the quantity and quality of coverage about climate science being received in different Australian regions and by different audiences. See Section 4.2
Publications targeting high-income readers, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian, provide more coverage of climate science than those targeting lower income readers. See Section 4.2
The Australian, which is Australia’s only national newspaper targeted at a general audience, published the most articles (24% of 602 articles making significant mention of climate science). See The Australian below
Fairfax Media’s Sydney Morning Herald and The Age each published more articles about climate science than all publications apart from The Australian. See Section 4.2
Readers in Western Australia and the Northern Territory receive very little information about climate science. The West Australian, which is the only metropolitan newspaper in Perth, averaged only one article every three weeks over these periods with a significant reference to climate science. See Section 4.2
The NT News had an average of only one article with a significant mention of climate science every five weeks. See Section 4.10
The biggest drop of 50% in articles between 2011 and 2012 was in the biggest circulation publication, the Herald Sun in Melbourne. See Section 4.2
Genre of climate science articles
41% of articles (244) across the ten publications that made significant mention of climate science were news stories. See Figure 4.3.1
Of 244 news articles that made significant mention of climate science, 61 or 25% were less that 150 words long. See Figure 4.3.4
The Courier Mail had the highest proportion (66%) of news. See Section 4.3
There were very low levels of features, which provide extra sources and perspectives, about climate science See Section 4.3
The Australian, The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, all of which are targeted at higher income readers, published most of the features about climate science. See Section 4.3
The Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun, The Advertiser, The West Australian, The Mercury and the NT News had very low levels of features about climate science. The last four are dominant news sources in South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory respectively. See Section 4.3
31% of 602 articles were commentary about climate science. This finding highlights the significant role assigned by editors to opinion writers who promote their own attitudes towards climate change. Most commentary is written by non-scientists. See Figure 4.3.1
44% of words in 602 articles were allocated to comment pieces that covered climate science compared to only 22% of words to news articles about climate science. See Section 4.3
The Herald Sun had the highest proportion of commentary (65% of articles and 81% of word count.) and the lowest levels of news (27% of articles and 11% of words.).This is partly explained by the dominant role of Andrew Bolt, a prominent News Corp climate sceptic opinion writer. See Section 4.6 for more on Bolt’s role. See Section 4.3
Prominence of climate science coverage
Australian print publications did not feature climate science stories prominently during February to April in 2011 and 2012. See Figure 4.4.1
Approximately 70% of climate science coverage appeared after page 8. See Figure 4.4.1
News Corp publications, Herald Sun, The Courier Mail and The Advertiser placed more than 90% of stories that made significant reference to climate science after page 8. See Figure 4.4.1
There were 26 front-page articles in 10 publications making significant mention climate science during this period. 17, or nearly two-thirds of these, appeared in 2012. See Figure 4.4.1
The SMH was more likely than any other publication to publish articles prominently. It published 8% of articles (7) on the front page. All of these articles assumed a consensus position on climate change. 51% of SMH articles were on pages 2 - 8. See Figure 4.4.1
Reporting of peer reviewed research
Most Australians receive very little information from their media about peer-reviewed climate science findings. See Figure 4.5.1
Only 11% of all words in articles about climate science were dedicated to articles that explicitly referenced peer-reviewed climate science. See Section 4.5
79% of articles that did refer to peer-reviewed science were published in The Australian, The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald or The Advertiser. See Section 4.5
The biggest circulation publications in Australia, the Herald Sun and The Daily Telegraph provided almost no coverage of peer-reviewed science during February to April 2011 and 2012. See Figure 4.5.1
Scepticism and climate science coverage
Scientists (over 97%) overwhelmingly agree that the activities of human beings cause climate change. This is referred to as the consensus position. The term ‘climate sceptic’ refers to those who do not accept this consensus position. Articles were coded according to whether they ‘accepted’ the consensus position; ‘suggested doubt’ about it; or outright ‘rejected’ it. The latter two positions are both sceptical of the consensus position. Get more detail on the categorisation in Section 4.6.
Climate scepticism gets substantial favourable exposure in mainstream Australian media. See Section 4.6
32% or nearly one-third of 602 articles that covered climate science either rejected or suggested doubt about the consensus position. See Section 4.6
In 2012, 36% of stories did not accept the consensus position. See Figure 4.6.1
The number of articles about climate science fell between 2011 and 2012 but the number not accepting the scientific consensus that human beings are causing dangerous climate change grew. See Section 4.6
Despite very high levels of certainty that human activity causes dangerous climate change and evidence about the dangerous impacts of that change, the proportion of stories accepting the consensus position on anthropogenic climate change dropped between 2011 and 2012. See Figure 4.6.1
When measured according to words allocated to article, 31% of words were allocated to articles that did not accept the consensus position about anthropogenic climate science in 2011. This grew to 44% or nearly half of all words in 2012. See Figure 4.6.2
Some articles that overtly accepted the consensus position about anthropogenic climate change were produced in ways that undermined the credibility of climate scientists or the case for urgent action. This was particularly so in The Australian. See Section 4.6 for details and Section 4.8 for examples
Across the ten publications, more words (45,775 or 13%) were allocated to articles that completely rejected the notion of anthropogenic global warming than the number words in articles that referred to peer reviewed climate science research. (27748 or 8%). See Figure 4.6.2
Fairfax Media’s Sydney Morning Herald and The Age accept the consensus position on anthropogenic climate change. They published only 9 and 6 articles respectively which might suggest to readers that the consensus position was in doubt. See Section 4.6
The most sceptical publications were The Daily Telegraph (73% of words) and Herald Sun (81% of words) and The NT News (62% of words). The Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun were also the most biased against the carbon policy. See Figure 4.6.2
Unlike other News Corp publications, The Mercury and The Courier Mail were accepting of the consensus position. In 2013, the Courier Mail has become more sceptical. This reflects its recent use of Andrew Bolt as a columnist. See Figure 4.6.1
Commentary and scepticism
Most comment articles did not accept the consensus position. In 2012, 44% of comment pieces outright rejected the consensus position about anthropogenic climate change. See Figure 4.6.4
97% of comment pieces in the Herald Sun either questioned or rejected the consensus position about anthropogenic climate change. See Figure 4.6.4
Andrew Bolt plays a significant and strategic role in the production of climate scepticism in Australia. He is employed and heavily promoted by News Corp. He also has his own show The Bolt Report on Channel Ten and is featured almost daily on right wing radio station 2GB. See Andrew Bolt in Section 4.6
When considered from the viewpoint of word count, Andrew Bolt wrote a total of 13,281 words, which is 49% or nearly half of all words in articles that included material about climate science in the Herald Sun. See Andrew Bolt in Section 4.6
Apart from the 20 articles in the Herald Sun, Bolt wrote five sceptical articles in The Advertiser, four sceptical articles in NT News and 5 of 21 in The Daily Telegraph that rejected the consensus position. He was also published during this period in The Cairns Post and The Townsville Bulletin. See Andrew Bolt in Section 4.6 )
There are hundreds of climate sceptic posts on Andrew Bolt’s blog that News Corp promotes as “Australia’s most read political blog”. Readers comments are overwhelmingly sceptic. The Australian occasionally picks up on Bolt’s sceptic columns and promotes them through further stories. See Andrew Bolt in Section 4.6
Bolt rejects established scientific bodies and scientists as authoritative sources on climate change. His opinion pieces target climate scientists, journalists, policy advisors and politicians who accept the consensus position, by accusing them of telling lies, misleading the public and being hypocritical. See Example One: ‘Secrets Out: No gain from carbon tax pain’ in Section 4.6
Bolt describes those who support the consensus position as ‘warmists’ who by definition are driven by ideology and are unreliable. See Andrew Bolt in Section 4.6
Bolt’s campaign against climate science is linked to his opposition to publicly funded science and media which he tends to portray as elitist and dangerously left-wing. See Section 4.6
News Corp does not balance Bolt's voice with climate science journalism, which leaves him as the dominant voice on climate science for many of his readers. See Andrew Bolt in Section 4.6
Bolt uses a strategy of repeating messages and his work is often shared and reposted by sceptic bloggers. See Andrew Bolt in Section 4.6
Climate sceptics have a strong presence on some of Australia's most successful commercial talkback shows throughout Australia who draw on and promote Andrew Bolt and other well known sceptics. See Andrew Bolt in Section 4.6
Scepticism pushes out other climate science stories
In challenging times for media businesses, resources for rigorous reporting are stretched in mainstream journalism. This includes all forms of science reporting, including climate change reporting.
By turning climate science into a debate, scepticism occupies space in Australian non-sceptic media that might otherwise be given to articles covering climate science. See Climate Scepticism Becomes a Story in Section 4.6
28% of articles that made significant mentions of climate science published by the Sydney Morning Herald in 2012 were either about scepticism or issues revolving around the sceptic lobby and prominent sceptics. This journalism contributes to public understanding of scepticism but may leave less time for climate science reports. See Climate Scepticism Becomes a Story in Section 4.6
Media Watch, Crikey, The Conversation and several bloggers have provided valuable independent critiques of coverage of climate change. See Section 4.8
Recent research by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has established that the Australian coverage of four significant reports about climate science had more sceptic voices than the coverage in other countries studied including the United States and United Kingdom which also produce more media scepticism than other countries. Along with that research, the findings of this study suggest that Australia may have the highest concentration of scepticism in its media in the world. Such high levels of scepticism should be a matter of concern to the Australian public, governments, the scientific community and journalists. See Section 3. Background
News Corp versus Fairfax Media in Sydney and Melbourne
The two Fairfax Media publications The Age and Sydney Morning Herald were compared to News Corp’s Herald Sun and The Daily Telegraph in Section 4.7.
Fairfax Media publications papers had about 43% more articles (163) that made significant reference to climate science compared to the News Corp papers (114). See Figure 4.7.1
News Corp had much higher levels of comment articles (51%) and lower levels of news (29%) than Fairfax did. See Figure 4.7.2
Fairfax Media had close to three times as many words in news articles about climate science compared to News Corp.
In 2012, more than half the coverage of climate science in the News Corp publications was ‘comment’. See Figure 4.7.2
85% of Fairfax articles accepted the scientific consensus position on anthropogenic climate science compared to only 34% of stories in News Corp. See Figure 4.7.3
In 2012, the differences became greater. Levels of acceptance of the scientific consensus position on climate science in The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald increasing from 83% to 86% while the levels of acceptance in the Herald Sun and The Daily Telegraph dropped from 44% to 22%. See Section 4.7
In 2012, 45% of the articles in the two News Corp tabloids rejected the consensus position while another 33% questioned it. See Section 4.7
15% of stories on climate science in Fairfax newspapers compared to 1% in the News Corp newspapers referred to peer reviewed research. See Section 4.7
While coverage in all publications decreased in 2012, Fairfax remained consistently accepting of the scientific consensus position on climate science, while News Corp became more sceptical. See Section 4.7
Higher income and more highly educated audiences of The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald are much more likely to read news and features about climate science and reports of peer reviewed research than News Corp readers. See Who are the readers of News Corp and Fairfax Media in Sydney and Melbourne in Section 4.7
The NT News: Example of low coverage with heavy dose of scepticism
During the period February to April The NT News published 8 articles in 2011 about climate science (with a total word count of 3,033 words) and 11 articles in 2012 (with a total word count of 4,142 words) (See Figure 4.2.3). See Section 4.10
7 comment articles comprised 72% of total words in The NT News articles that made significant mention of climate science. See Section 4.10
Of 19 articles, 11 articles were coded as conveying an acceptance of the consensus position on climate science, 4 were coded as suggesting doubt about the consensus and 4 as clearly rejecting it. See Section 4.10
62% of total words in all these articles did not accept the consensus position. See Section 4.10
The NT News readers received only one news story of more than 100 words that reported the findings of climate scientists. See News in Section 4.10
Andrew Bolt wrote 6 columns or 57% of all The NT News words in the sample. Some of his articles were promoted near the front of the publication. See Opinion Pieces in Section 4.10
Bolt’s aggressive sceptic discourse overwhelms occasional very brief news coverage of climate science in The NT News. Material climate science impacts on the Northern Territory that were discussed in key government and science reports were not reported by The NT News. See the Conclusion in Section 4.10
The Australian casts itself as a national agenda setter. It produced 24% of all articles making a significant mention of climate science, compared to 15% in the Sydney Morning Herald, which had the second highest number of articles. See Section 4.8
Nearly half (47%) of the articles and 50% of the words in The Australian’s coverage did not accept the consensus position. See Section 4.8
While only 5% of articles were coded as rejecting the scientific consensus about anthropogenic climate change ,the remarkable characteristic of The Australian’s coverage is the high proportion (45%) of articles coded as questioning the scientific consensus position or communicating that its validity was a matter of debate. See Figure 4.8.1
While scientists overwhelmingly agree on anthropogenic climate change, The Australian represents climate science as matter of opinion or debate rather than as a field for inquiry and investigation like all scientific fields. See Section 4.8
The Australian was more sceptical in 2012 than 2011, with 59% of the words allocated to climate change coverage either suggesting doubt or rejecting the scientific consensus in 2012.
A substantial proportion of the articles that were coded as accepting the consensus position were written in ways that undermined the credibility of climate scientists and those that support climate change policies opposed by The Australian. Other articles overtly accepted the scientific consensus position or specific scientific findings but underplayed their seriousness or a need for urgent action. (Case studies and examples are included). Examples can be found in Section 4.8
News articles published by The Australian were less sceptical than commentary, but news articles that questioned the scientific consensus position on climate change tended to be 51% longer than news articles that accepted it. See Section 4.8
Commentary about climate science published by The Australian was almost equally divided between commentary that accepted the consensus position compare to commentary that did not. See Examples of Sceptical Commentary in Section 4.8
Commentary about climate science published by The Australian increased in 2012 and was more sceptical. See Examples of Sceptical Commentary in Section 4.8
Some news articles published by The Australian that communicated an acceptance that anthropogenic climate change is occurring were structured in ways that undermined the credibility of climate scientists; news angles were selected that highlighted research that suggested climate change impacts could be less than previously reported. See News Example Four: Good news story about coral research in Section 4.8
The Australian attacks journalists at Fairfax Media and the ABC who cover climate change in ways that clearly communicate an acceptance of the scientific consensus position on anthropogenic climate change. See Cut and Paste in Section 4.8
The Australian promotes and publishes the work of climate sceptics without critiquing their work or the interests they promote. See Climate scepticism as a collaborative effort in Section 4.8
The Australian frames the climate science in terms of an ideological battle and its critics as dogmatists who threaten free speech and rationality. See Section 4.8
Climate scientists have established a link between both the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and climate change. See Evidence linking extreme weather and climate change Section 4.9
During February and April 2011 and 2012, most stories about extreme weather events made no mention of climate change. See Section 4.9
However the link between extreme weather events and climate change is a strong theme in climate science coverage. The disaster theme was a strong one. See Figure 4.9.1
31% of all articles (602) in the 2012 period mentioned extreme weather in connection with climate science, but a substantial proportion of these rejected the scientific evidence that has established a link with climate change. See Section 4.9
Extreme weather events receive far more coverage than other adverse impacts linked with climate change such as loss of species and acidification of oceans. The public is receiving very little coverage of these impacts. See Section 4.9
Issues for further research
Further research is needed to see if the decline in coverage of climate science continued in 2013 and to what extent it was a consequence of failing corporate media models that are affecting other fields of reporting as well.
Further research is also needed to establish whether the proportion of total climate science coverage media that promotes scepticism has increased or declined since April 2012.
More research needs to be done into the impact of media on specific audiences and political opinion. This research needs to take account of the complexity of media flows including how stories are transmitted between publications and the interaction between mainstream media, audience response and social media and blogs.
Further research needs to be carried out on the interaction between sceptic sources and sceptic journalists
Further research also needs to be carried out into the most effective way to communicate climate science findings to audiences that are poorly served by media.
The findings in this report present a challenge for media accountability in Australia. There needs to be more public discussion about how the findings of climate science can be communicated to all sections of the public, including those who receive the lowest levels and most sceptic coverage.