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UN climate chief says media not getting it

Speaking at a gathering of US environmental journalists last week, the chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said that the news media has not done enough to communicate the severity of global warming.

By Blogger for The Christian Science Monitor / October 24, 2008

Rajendra K. Pachauri, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, speaks at a press conference in Geneva in March.

AP Photo/Keystone, Salvatore Di Nolfi/FILE

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Speaking at a gathering of US environmental journalists last week, the chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that the news media has not done enough to communicate the severity of global warming.

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RajendraK. Pachauri, who last year shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former vice president Al Gore, told those gathered at the Society of Environmental Journalists' (SEJ) annual meeting in Roanoke, Va., last Friday that many news outlets have been missing the story since February 2007, when the IPCC released its landmark report that concluded that global warming is very likely caused by human activity. The Worldwatch Institute's Ben Block reports:

"In the last year and a half, there has been a massive explosion of awareness; however, the media has not reported enough about the emergency and depth of action," said Pachauri, who has led the United Nations panel since 2002.
The fact that only half of Americans polled consider human activity to be the main cause of climate change is often blamed on media coverage. But news reports of climate change have steadily increased in recent years, especially since government reports, a major Supreme Court hearing, and the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" brought attention to the climate crisis in 2006.
Pachauri suggested that major news agencies now rely too much on high-level science reports or large climate-related events for their stories, rather than examples of climate change's ongoing effects. "We need to go beyond the cyclical coverage of climate change and emphasize the day-to-day relevance," he said.

Worldwatch's Mr. Block quotes outgoing SEJ President and Baltimore Sun reporter Timothy Wheeler, who says that news stories often reflect public opinion polls. For most US voters, climate change is not a top policy concern. "When the economy is the way it is, a war is going on, these are the things that grab the headlines and network news," Wheeler is quoted as saying.

But leaving it at that would ignore the press's role in shaping public opinion. The news isn't a one-way street: Most people's policy concerns are greatly informed by what they watch, hear, and read in the mass media. A newspaper that plays down climate change will end up with a readership that plays it down, too.

Mr. Pachauri's criticism – that coverage of climate change needs to be made more relevant to readers – has been making the rounds in media circles lately.

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