The coverage of climate change and climate policy in the media

The media provide information and offer interpretation on the issue of climate change. They define how to understand the problem and explain its causes and consequences. Furthermore they discuss responsibilities and communicate solutions and they inform the public and decision makers about public opinion on the issue. Therefore it is highly relevant to know and understand how the issue is covered and framed by the media. The media coverage is analyzed in several projects and influencing factors are investigated.

As climate change is a global issue but the effects and responsibilities differ between regions and nations it is important to compare the coverage between countries. Thus, a current research project is dealing with content analysis of media coverage on climate change in 10 countries. Additionally, contextual factors influencing how the media deal with the issue are investigated. A publication is forthcoming.

Since climate change is a highly contested issue, many actors with different interests strive to make their voices more salient in the media. In her dissertation project, Mira Rochyadi-Reetz is investigating the frame building process on the issue of climate change in Indonesia. As a developing country in the global South, Indonesia is strongly impacted by the effect of climate change but at the same time the country is highly dependent on fossil energy and promotes deforestation to boost its economic development.

On the occasion of the World Climate Conference 2009 in Copenhagen (COP 15), a standardized content analysis of reporting in German print media was carried out. It is argued that COPs as communication events can contribute to political agreement and support of measures against climate change if the media cover it appropriately. In the empirical part of the paper it was examined, to what extent the coverage of the World Climate Conference actually corresponds to the criteria and requirements previously elaborated (Arlt & Wolling 2012). In addition, an overview article was published summarizing the research on climate conferences as (political) communication events (Wolling & Arlt 2017).

Lena Birkenfeldconducted a comparative content analysis of German and Australian climate reporting as part of her doctoral project. It is examined which frames can be found in the reporting of the two countries and whether these frames differ in connection with external events like flood catastrophes and parliamentary elections. Furthermore it is investigated how the differences in coverage can be explained by contextual factors of the two countries. A publication is forthcoming.

Encouraging climate action

Climate change is often associated with disaster images, failed political negotiations and negative headlines. From the perspective of reception and impact research, the question arises as to whether such media content contributes to people acting consciously regarding climate change.

Proximity is recognized as an important aspect of effective climate communication. Following this idea we developed a communication concept for the Hessische Landesenergieagentur (LEA). Based on the analysis of the argumentation of climate change deniers, we propose a concept providing local information, arguments and communication guidelines to facilitate effective, encouraging communication with the public.

A second research project analyzed climate communication on Instagram and identified a visual frame which combines threat and humor as the most effective message for attracting user attention and engagement. Utilizing humor to address a grave topic like climate change seems counterintuitive, but humorous pictures appear to be well received online. This raises questions about the perception of these images and peoples’ (online) interactions with them. The role of humor is examined more closely in an online experiment concerning the perception of different kinds of humor. Publications are forthcoming.

In her dissertation project, Imke Hoppe used the example of an online game on the subject of energy saving to investigate the characteristics that such a game should have in order to promote climate-conscious action. Her theoretical approach is based on 'action orientation', which comes from sustainability communication and teaching and learning research, as well as on drama theory ('dramaturgy research'). Her dissertation (Hoppe 2016) was published in the Open Access book series NEU-Kommunikation.

The first project by the research group in this field examined the influence of individual media use on climate-related problem awareness and intentions for action. The data for this study came from a representative panel survey of the German population conducted in 2007 as part of the DFG project "Political Online Communication" (Arlt, Hoppe & Wolling 2010, 2011).

The network of climate change deniers

Together with Emese Domahidi and Waqas Ejaz a Twitter network of climate change deniers was analyzed. Results of the project were already presented in K3 in Karlsruhe. A publication is forthcoming.