The media has, by and large, a highly non-serious outlook towards the critical issue of global warming. The sustained and often painstaking coverage of the increase in temperature of the world’s near-surface air and its oceans seem elusive to the mainstream media. Driven by forces of advertising and marketing that demand a continuing increase in readership or audience, the media ignores the issue almost completely.
Global warming also requires that the coverage be over large periods of time. Covering it can be done only if dedicated mediapersons are delegated to the task. As is the case with investigative reports which traditionally used to be done in teams and after voluminous research, the coverage of global warming is also facing a dwindling media attention.
The primary man-made cause of global warming is the burning of fossil
fuels. We are taking energy stored over hundreds of millions of years
in the form of coal, gas and oil, and releasing it suddenly. This
causes global warming, and there is a pass-along effect. Since glaciers
and snow reflect sunlight but sea water absorbs it, the more the ice
melts, the more of the sun’s energy is retained by the sea.
The ‘someday-somewhere’ nature of the story, mediapersons covering the beat report, prevent editors from give the news front page attention. In the case of television with its constant demand for eyeballs, global warming as a urgent story that needs to be reported, and constantly so, simply does not happen. TV is addicted to breaking news: coverage of terrorism, crime and political developments hold thrall while an issue of urgent attention goes unreported.
The common man’s perception of global warming seems to be that the issue is best left to scientists. Even in a worse case scenario, studies have shown that the increase in temperature is slightly over six degree Celsius over the 21st century. But it could also be as low as only a degree increase in mean temperature. This difference which is largely due to the variation is sensitivity to greenhouse gases that various models include. A slam dunk case that global warming exists and it is an urgent issue has still not been made. Many people continue to debunk the theory, and the media has a large role in shaping the common perception towards what is in reality a grave danger.
Differences also continue to exist over whether global warming is causes by human activity and therefore can be shaped by man. Coverage of the need for tapping alternative energy sources such the wind and the sun is also not given the attention is deserves.
Anyone familiar with the dilemma around the coverage of global warming will tell you that the question is essentially a simple one. Does the coverage of the issue exhibit a diffidence towards it by the common man or is the media inherently responsible? In other words, does the media bury the coverage of global warming because we won’t view it or read it? Some believe that the media has a responsibility towards informing its readership or audience of an issue that most certainly concern them. Others, and they seem to larger in number, see the media as a vehicle for advertisements, and therefore has no concern towards the people.
Though we can’t shy away from the fact that the issue is difficult to cover because of its very nature, there exists a persuasive case why the issue needs to covered. I believe that global warming as a story will eventually provide gains for the media but they would be long term. Only a TV channel or a newspaper willing to invest in the coverage will see returns.
Also the media is bogged down by the issue of objectivity. This rule, that journalists are today taught in journalism schools, has it that the reporter should always cover both sides of the story. This means the opinion of a smaller number of scientists, whose credentials may or may not be in question, is greatly amplified. These scientists may even be funded by carbon-based industry interests, but journalists in pursuit of objectivity often quote these voices, disreputable as they are. Balanced coverage does not mean accurate coverage. In the quest to report competing points of view, journalist actually sacrifice accuracy when reporting this issue.while reporting issues of science, to present competing view points as if they had equal scientific weight can be misleading. As a result whether global warming exists or not becomes a contentious issue.
However, there can be virtually no doubt over the issue of global warming. The United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has consistently said that human activities will lead to an increase in temperature of the earth’s surface and that the ocean’s level can increase by as much as 35 inches. This can submerge countries if not vast tracts of land.
Ross Gelbspan, drawing from his 31-year career as a reporter and editor, charges in his books The Heat Is On and Boiling Point
that a failed application of the ethical standard of balanced reporting
on issues of fact has contributed to inadequate press coverage of
So like Mark Twain said, What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just isn’t so