Media coverage of climate change in Portugal and Spain

December 2019

Industrial weather ©Carolina Pimenta@Unsplash.

News about climate change published in Portugal and Spain favours political or technical discourse over civil society, concludes a study by the Centre for Social Studies (CES) at the University of Coimbra (UC).

In this study, which aimed to analyse Iberian media coverage on climate change to better discuss its influence on public involvement with the issue, close to 500 online news articles (217 in Portugal and 232 in Spain), published in 2017 and 2018 in various national media, were examined.

The news was collected through the Google News database and selected in order of media relevance, in four time periods: February to March 2017; June to July 2017; October to November 2017; February to March 2018.

Broadly speaking, in both countries, the news «highlights political or technical discourses, especially discussions between the various political parties, neglecting the discourses and behaviour of individuals. In the case of Portugal, for example, of the 217 news stories evaluated, only 12 favour civil society», says Neide Areia, author of the study already published in the scientific journal “Science of The Total Environment”.

In addition, the vast majority of the news «highlights alarmist framings, for example, the death toll or the mass extinction of species. Journalists tend to frame environmental issues by focusing too much on the issues, whether they are the effects of climate change or the failure of political institutions to address them»,she says.

Regarding the most reported climate phenomena, drought and its impact on agriculture comes first in both countries (157 stories), followed in Portugal by news related to forest fires.

According to the CES researcher, the results of this study show that «the media must democratise the communication of climate change, bringing the reality of the problem closer to the reality of the average individual. Instead of the significant projection given to news related to international political-scientific discussions or environmental disasters occurring elsewhere in the world, journalists should frame the issue of climate change at the local community level and at the individual level».

Considering the influence of the media in building public opinion, Neide Areia argues that «a more proactive discourse on climate change can make all the difference by influencing the adoption of sustainable behaviour (general public) and the implementation of environmental policies and laws (policy makers)».

«In fact, a democratic communication on environmental issues - focused on more pro-climate news, for example, community actions to deal with climate change, not just government failures regarding environmental policy or climate-related disasters - would improve the active role of the media in engaging individuals and help promote society's active responses to climate change», says the researcher, who will now extend the study to France, Ireland and the United Kingdom and is currently analysing 1600 news published in 2017 and 2018. At a later stage, the type of privileged political discourse in the news will be analysed.

This research was carried out within the framework of the European project: RiskAquaSoil: PAtlantic Risk Management Plan in water and soil, focused on detecting the impacts of climate change on rural areas, contributing to risk management, water and soil use, the rehabilitation of agricultural areas and the development of new practices.

Led by Alexandre Tavares, from the Faculty of Science and Technology of the University of Coimbra (FCTUC), RiskAquaSoil (started in 2017) has the participation of about four dozen researchers from Spain, France, Ireland, Portugal and the United Kingdom


Author: Cristina Pinto | Press Office - University of Coimbra / Science Communication