Master Thesis Media & Journalism



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Master Thesis

Media & Journalism

Code: CH4450


Climate Change:

A Hot Crisis?


A Critical Comparative Content Analysis

of Media Discourse & Public Discourse

on Climate Change Controversy

in the US & the Netherlands



Supervisor: J.M. Engelbert
Erasmus University, Rotterdam

Department: FHKW

Academic Year: 2008 - 2009
Guusje de Haas

Student ID: 295142

E-mail: guusjedehaas@hotmail.com

Prologue


This is it.
This thesis is the conclusion of half a year of hard, and sometimes harsh work, which was the concluding course of the Master Media & Journalism, which was the concluding college year at Erasmus University, which was the concluding college where I spent my concluding college days. This thesis is the icing on my concluding course, college and college days-cake.

And, if I may say so myself, it is simply sweet!


Yet writing this thesis was not simple at all. It has been a challenging, but rewarding process, with some good ups (sitting

in the setting sun at Berkeley University to interview some students about the setting sun was definitely a good up) and even better downs (after returning from Jiska’s office, I would often be dazed and confused due to our discourses about discourse, although after a few dawning days these downs would turn upside down into ups, hence even better downs).
Therefore I would like to write a little word of thanks to everyone who has not only made the realization of this thesis possible, but also a lot more pleasant. First of all, I would like to thank Jiska, who from the start showed sincere interest and confidence in me and this thesis, who’s knowledge on discourse seems endless, which was considerably convenient and who is strict, but light-spirited at the same time, what makes her a superb supervisor. Furthermore, I would like to thank Luit, who (how sweet) kept, and still keeps, coming up with paper cuttings on climate change, who (how handy) contributed some conceptions on how to keep this thesis, as well as my mind, crystal clear, and (how special) who not only supported me as every parent would, or should, but continuously encouraged me to not only think of this thesis as something that is enforced, but as something that reinforces. And so this thesis has not only become the conclusion of half a year of hard work, but also, hopefully, the starting point of a prosperous career in journalism. And last, but certainly not least, I would like to thank Wout, who has lovingly pushed me to do my bestest best, and above all, who has been so patient for me to finally finish this thesis.
Wout, relax, I just put my last words in writings. My last words of my last assignment of my last college year. This thesis is where everything I have learned comes together. Something which is evident and transparent throughout this entire thesis. This thesis does not simply consist of some theory, some method and some results, accepted in advance and arrogance. This thesis is an exploration of relevant literature, a search for a suitable method and an extensive enlightenment of possibly interesting results. As a result, reading this thesis may sometimes seem an endless experience, however, hang in there,

for I guarantee you, due to new theories and new methods, new knowledge about media discourse and public discourse

on climate change controversy will be brought to light, which is worth your wile.
With that in mind I welcome you to my world, in which no truth is taken for granted. You can imagine I am really relieved

for what has been and actually excited for what is coming. But what is coming, that is up to you. Half a year of hard work

lies behind me and in front of you. Good luck. And above all, enjoy.

Table of Contents


1. Introduction Page 4

1.1 Social Discussion & Social Significance of Researching Climate Change Controversy Page 4

1.2 Scientific Discussion & Scientific Significance of Researching Climate Change Controversy Page 5

1.3 Research Question Page 8

1.4 Research Composition Page 9

2. Literature Review Page 10

2.1 Discourse Page 10

2.2 Media Discourse & Public Discourse Page 16

2.3 Discourse Analysis Page 27

2.4 Media Discourse Analysis & Public Discourse Analysis Page 29

3. Method Page 35

3.1 Media Discourse Analysis applied to Climate Change Controversy Page 35

3.2 Public Discourse Analysis applied to Climate Change Controversy Page 39

4. Results Page 43

4.1 US Media Discourse on Climate Change: The New York Times Page 44

4.2 US Public Discourse on Climate Change: Berkeley University Page 50

4.3 Influenced Influence: US Media Discourse compared to US Public Discourse Page 56

4.4 Dutch Media Discourse on Climate Change: De Volkskrant Page 58

4.5 Dutch Public Discourse on Climate Change: Erasmus University Page 64

4.6 Influenced Influence: Dutch Media Discourse compared to Dutch Public Discourse Page 71

4.7 US Discourse on Climate Change compared to Dutch Discourse on Climate Change Page 74

5. Conclusion Page 75

5.1 Recapitulation Research Page 75

5.2 Recapitulation Research Question Page 76

6. Discussion Page 79

6.1 Scientific & Social Contributions Page 79

6.2 Strengths & Limitations Page 80

6.3 Recommendations Page 81


References Page 82

Appendixes Page 86

Appendix I: The New York Times & De Volkskrant Newspaper Articles Page 87

Appendix II: Requests Berkeley University & Erasmus University Page 135

Appendix III: Semi-structured Interview Schedule Page 137

Appendix IV: Interview Berkeley University Students Page 140

Appendix V: Interview Erasmus University Students Page 144

Introduction



Introduction




Literature Review




Method




Results




Conclusion




Discussion

1.1 Social Discussion & Social Significance of Researching Climate Change Controversy

1.2 Scientific Discussion & Scientific Significance of Researching Climate Change Controversy

1.3 Research Question

1.4 Research Composition
1.1 Social Discussion & Social Significance of Researching Climate Change Controversy
Social Discussion of Climate Change Controversy

Almost ten years ago Sheldon Ungar argued that, as opposed to the ozone hole, climate change never really engendered

a ‘hot crisis’. “That is, the ozone hole provided a sense of immediate and concrete risk with everyday relevance. Climate change fails to do so and remains in a public limbo.” (Ungar, 2000: 2) However, looking at the immense intensity of international interest in the issue today, it seems as though things have changed. Over the past few years climate change has become the subject of many conversations within many areas and many arenas. From the Netherlands all the way to

the US and back, it is now one of the most prominent topics within politics, the media and the public arena. According to Anabela Carvalho “a series of remarkable events has contributed to transform climate change into one of the most high profile issues of the present moment: hurricane Katrina, Al Gore’s film and book An Inconvenient Truth, the Nobel prize

that was awarded jointly to him and to the IPCC, the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, Live Earth, and the gloomy forecasts of the 4th IPCC Assessment Report all concurred to putting climate change on the media, the public’s and the political agendas, which then tend to feed each other.” (Carvalho, 2008: 8) And so climate change literally has become a hot crisis.
Nowadays ‘green’, ‘organic’ and ‘sustainability’ seem to be buzzing words, and one and all is well aware and concerned

of the changing climate and how it is, supposedly, harming our planet. Nevertheless, lately there has been an enormous increase in criticism towards climate change. Some say the notion of climate change, let alone the notion of a crisis,

is highly overdone. Besides, even if there is such thing as climate change, we cannot do anything about it anyway. Some say climate change is not a crisis at all, but a climate shifting, in which the North Pole is melting and the South Pole is freezing, and in which some parts of the world are more or less affecting or affected by climate change. Some say climate change

is an undulation and that in a few years it will automatically become cooler again. And last, but certainly not least, some say climate change is not an inconvenient truth at all. At least now it’s nice and hot, right?


Everywhere everyone evermore has a certain image of, hence a certain opinion about climate change. And the number

and nature of signals is nothing but increasing. Global warming seems to be undisputed. But whether climate change is caused by human beings and their greenhouse gasses, or whether it is just a normal, natural process of climatic cycles,

is definitely disputed. And so a climate change controversy has come into being. There seems to be a somewhat populistic, Al Gore-ish side, which preaches problems, infelicity and urgency, and a so called specialised side, which points to the long term rotations of the earth, in combination and coherence with the sun, the moon and the stars, plus… little urgency. Opinions differ on both the causes and effects of climate change, as well as possible policies and measures. And this is not only visible within politics and the media. Just look around. Look at the everyday conversations between you and me.

For most of us the media are a major, sometimes sole, source of information. And so people base their opinions on what they see on the television, what they hear on the radio, what they read in the paper and what they come across on the web. In the case of climate change public opinion is therefore formed on the basis of a variety and multiplicity of critical sounds and debates, in short, an ambiguity within the media. Public understanding of climate change is thereby equally ambiguous.


Social Significance of Researching Climate Change Controversy

The concerning social discussion of the current climate change controversy confirms the social significance of researching the current climate change controversy. I would like to analyze to what extent, when, where and how, within both the media and the public arena, this controversy comes to existence and what the consequences are. To me climate change is a fact. Therefore I am surprised, and at the same time intrigued, by the worldwide confusion and commotion that somehow, despite this thing called common sense, increasingly spreads across society. Learning more about climate change, the way in which the media inform on climate change, the way in which images, opinions and conceptions on climate change are constructed, hence the way in which the world deals with climate change is obviously, always, very important, for climate change is a particularly current affair, that sooner or later, concerns every single one of us. Moreover, een beter milieu begint bij jezelf. And so the objective of this thesis is to study how the media speak of climate change, how the public speaks of climate change and how these ways of speaking are affected and affect one another. It focuses on whether, when, where and how the media construct climate change controversy, whether, when, where and how the public constructs climate change controversy and whether, when, where and how these constructions of climate change controversy correlate.


1.2 Scientific Discussion & Scientific Significance of Researching Climate Change Controversy
Scientific Discussion of Climate Change Controversy

This thesis on climate change controversy within the media and the public arena isn’t the first and sure won’t be the last. Because, as climate change grew into a significant subject of discussion, so did the number and nature of researches concerning climate change as a significant subject of discussion. Over the past few years, quite some serious, scientific studies have been dedicated to the aforementioned ambiguity within the way the media and public think, talk and debate about climate change. The existing analyses of media and public ambiguity can be divided, roughly, into two trends.


On the one hand, a great quantity of research has been directed to media reporting on climate change, that is, to media discourse. These analyses almost always start off by stating that science, as represented by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), comprised of top climate scientists from around the globe, has reached consensus that human activities significantly contribute to climate change. (Climate Change 2007: Fourth IPCC Synthesis Report) Nevertheless,

this consensus is not visible within the media, which is the main source of information for millions of readers and viewers. And as most people gain most of their political, economical or other news mostly through newspapers, magazines, television, radio and the internet, so they do with most scientific stories. (Boykoff & Boykoff, 2007) Therefore the media have a crucial responsibility as a source of information about science for citizens. Public perceptions and perspectives on climate change are significantly influenced by representations of scientific knowledge conveyed by the press and other mass means of communication. (Carvalho, 2005) The media are key actors in the identification and interpretation of environmental issues. Scientific findings constitute a specialized mode of knowledge that is almost always packaged in professional language. Scientists generally employ a lexicon of caution and speak in a language of probability, which usually does not translate smoothly into the crisp, unequivocal commentary that is valued in the press. (Boykoff & Raja, 2007)

In other words, the very language scientists employ plays into scientific uncertainty as a salient theme in media coverage. (Weingart et al, 2000, Zehr, 2000) Therefore, scientific findings usually require translation into more colloquial terms in order to be comprehensible. Like any other dimension of reality, science is reconstructed and not merely mirrored in the media. Depictions of the world in the media result from a series of choices such as whether an issue will make the news, what highlight it will be given, and who is going to speak for it. Operations of codification of the issue into media discourse are directed by its perceived interest and impact, as well as other ‘news values’, economic considerations and editorial lines. Particular worldviews are produced, reproduced and transformed in media discourses, others are excluded from them. (Carvalho, 2005) And the same goes for climate change. Although science suggests climate change is a fact, the media sometimes include, sometimes exclude and sometimes transform this fact, thereby constructing climate change as a case

of no consensus, as a controversy. By referring to well-known media discourse theorists, such as Fairclough, Baudrillard, McLuhan, Hall, Fiske, Dewey and Carey, who theorize media discourse to be quite context specific, and by applying critical discourse analysis, which analyzes media discourse according to its context, the previous pieces problematize climate change controversy within media discourse.


On the other hand, a great quantity of research has been directed to the formation of public opinions on climate change,

that is, to public discourse. These analyses, just like analyses of media discourse on climate change, almost always start off by stating that scientists today speak with a near unified voice on the existence of a human induced greenhouse effect and

in least in general ways on its potential dramatic impacts. The citizens of various nations of the world, on the other hand, appear to possess wide-ranging views and levels of understandings about global climate change as a real or potential threat. (Brechin, 2003) Improved understanding of public perceptions about climate change can contribute to informed scientific and policy debates. Scientists need to know how the public is likely to respond to climate impacts or initiatives, because those responses can attenuate or amplify the impacts. Policy makers need to know what the public wants, in order to design policies that will be supported or at least tolerated. Both groups need to understand the extent to which people’s responses will differ across regions. (Bord, 1998) However, research is lacking that directly tests public responses to media discourse on global warming, in particular, the media’s portrayal of its (un)certainty. (Corbett, 2004) By referring to well-known public opinion theorists, such as Habermas and Lippmann, who theorize public discourse, like media discourse, to be quite context specific as well, and by applying critical discursive psychology, which analyzes public discourse, like media discourse, according to its context as well, the previous pieces problematize climate change controversy within public discourse.
Scientific Significance of Researching Climate Change Controversy

Evidently, most academic endeavour on climate change addresses either media discourse or public discourse. However,

the basic assumption of these analyses is that both media discourse and public discourse are constructed by their context.

A context which they are both part of. According to this reasoning media discourse and public discourse construct one another. So why study them separately? Why not combine them? Researching climate change controversy within the media in combination with the public is scientifically significant because, whatever the issue may be, media discourse always contributes to the construction of public discourse, and so it always influences the way science is translated into policy. Something which is particularly visible with environmental issues, such as the concerning. On the contrary though, political, economical and other interests also influence what the media produce, hence how they shape our images and opinions.

In short, media discourse is an absolute essential context for understanding the construction of the public discourse on climate change. And this conception on its turn carries a practical importance, for often the public opinion points to whether, when, where, what or which action is undertaken to combat climate change.

The US & the Netherlands

Speaking of context, when analyzing media discourse and public discourse on climate change, one should take into account the countries in which these discourses occur as well. Different countries, hence different contexts, construct completely different discourses. By changing countries, hence by changing contexts, one can test whether discourse indeed depends

on context. I’m especially expecting a significant and therefore interesting difference between the way the United States, henceforth the US, and the Dutch media report on climate change, which influences the US and Dutch public understanding of climate change, and the other way around. The Dutch media landscape can be characterized by a high level of public control and ownership through media policies and organizations. The fundament for Dutch media policy is article 7 of the Constitution, allowing freedom of speech, although, when it comes to newspapers the Media Law focuses on preventing disruptions of the free market due to vertical and horizontal media concentration. Besides, the Netherlands Competition Authority investigates and sanctions cartels and misuse of economic power in all media sectors, and assesses mergers and acquisitions. The government is actually planning to limit concentration in the newspaper market to a maximum share of 35 percent. Furthermore, the Dutch Press Fund is an independent authority that supports newspapers, magazines and websites with loans or subsidies. It also supports research projects and joint efforts to improve minorities’ access to the media. In short, the Dutch press seems to represent many different parties, and therefore many different viewpoints on many different subjects. (EJC, http://www.ejc.net/media_landscape/article/netherlands_the/)
The US media landscape, on the other hand, can be characterized by a relatively limited level of public ownership, control and regulations, and a high level of private ownership, causing media bias, which is the description of media being used to systematically present a particular point of view, such as a liberal or conservative one. There is a variety of watchdog groups that attempt to find the facts behind both biased reporting and unfounded claims of bias, and research about media bias is a subject of systematic scholarship in a variety of disciplines. Liberal bias in the media is commonly thought to be the result of liberal principles and ideas influencing the selection or coverage of news stories. (Goldberg, 2002) In fact, most journalists

at most media outlets, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and various broadcast networks, are Democratic voters whose attitudes are well to the left of the general public and whose coverage of controversial issues tends to reflect these attitudes (Lichter et al, 1991), carefully pushing climate change controversy in a liberal direction (Kuypers, 2002).

On the contrary, conservative bias in the media is commonly thought to be the result of conservative principles and ideas influencing the coverage or selection of news stories. It is claimed to exist for several reasons. First, the majority of the US media is owned by a handful of corporate conglomerates (General Electric, Time Warner, Walt Disney, News Corporation’s Media, CBS Corporation and Viacom). This uniformity of ownership leads to stories that might not benefit big businesses, such as their significant share in causing climate change, may not be run. Besides, the US media are often operated for profit and funded through the sale of advertisements. This tends to drive news, commentary and public affairs towards supporting industry and mercantilism, instead of a sustainable environment. (Goldberg, 2002)
In short, the US media seem to promote a single side, instead of representing the many different parties with their many different viewpoints on many different subjects. And I expect these different degrees of objectiveness within the US and Dutch media (due to different, more or less interest serving media landscapes and due to different, more or less interest in the topic of climate change in the first place) to come across in the US and Dutch public understanding of issues covered by the media, such as climate change. In fact, research indicates that the US tends to distort global warming in contrast to other countries’ representation of the issue and in contrast to scientists’ views on the issue, for the US economy is strongly tied into the fossil fuel industry and so it is in their interest to pretend that global warming is not a serious problem. (Dispensa, 2003)

1.3 Research Question

On the basis of the previous social, somewhat common sense discussion of the climate change debate and the subsequent rather serious, scientific discussion of the current climate change controversy, which generally distinguishes media discourse on climate change from public discourse on climate change, one wonders what these different discourses on climate change exactly come down to, whether media discourse and public discourse on climate change indeed really differ from one another, whether media discourse and public discourse on climate change differ per place or whether they are actually completely connected throughout the different areas (place versus place) and arenas (public versus media) of the universe.


And so the research question arises…
The Climate Change Controversy

What is the media discourse and public discourse on climate change within both the US and the Netherlands,

and what is the relationship between the two kinds of discourse and between the two countries?
… which can be divided into the following smaller, more specific sub questions:
Discourse

What is discourse?

What is media discourse?

What is public discourse?

What is the relationship of media discourse and public discourse?
Discourse Analysis

How can discourse be analysed?

How can media discourse be analysed?

How can public discourse be analysed?

How can the relationship of media discourse and public discourse be analysed?
Influenced Influence: US Media Discourse versus US Public Discourse

What is the US media discourse on climate change?

What is the US public discourse on climate change?

How do the US media discourse and the US public discourse on climate change relate?


Influenced Influence: Dutch Media Discourse versus Dutch Public Discourse

What is the Dutch media discourse on climate change?

What is the Dutch public discourse on climate change?

How do the Dutch media discourse and the Dutch public discourse on climate change relate?


Cross Comparison: US Media Discourse & US Public Discourse versus Dutch Media Discourse & Dutch Public Discourse

How do the US media discourse and the US public discourse on climate change relate to the Dutch media discourse and the Dutch public discourse on climate change?




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