An international survey of people’s news habits around the world reveals that Australians’ opinions on climate change are determined mostly by age and news source but that, overall, we are more likely to deny climate change than most other nations. And it is clear from the results of the 2020 Digital Media Report that a major reason for this denial is the influence of News Corp.
This year’s Digital News Report in Australia, which is produced by the News and Media Research Centre at the University of Canberra (disclosure, I am also employed by the university and wrote a commentary for this year’s report), covers a wide range of topics that investigate how people access news and what interests them.
The report has some pretty eye-opening results on the topic of climate change, which confirm longheld beliefs about the impact of the News Corp coverage of the issue.
Of the 40 countries that take part in the survey, which is coordinated by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford, only the US, Sweden and Norway have a higher percentage of news consumers who believe that climate change is either not serious at all or they don’t know if it is serious (which effectively means they do not think it is serious):
Just over one in five news consumers in Australia regard climate change as either not very serious, not serious at all or “don’t know”.
Given that the report was conducted during the recent horrific bushfire season, that result is rather stunning and depressing.
The problem is that, given you are reading this, you are not one of those people.
Of all online news outlets, Guardian Australia readers are second only to those who read Junkee in being extremely concerned about climate change, and third behind readers of the Conversation and Vice News, of those who are more than “somewhat concerned”.
And while we can give ourselves a pat on the back, a look down the bottom of the charts shows where the problem lies.
Nearly 30% of skynews.com.au readers don’t believe climate change is a serious issue (compared to 35% of those who watch Sky News TV), and we see News Corp websites dominate the news sites whose readers most deny climate change.
Mostly the views of the online readers aligns with that of the offline readers by brand, although those who consume ABC online are generally more likely to deny climate change than those who consume ABC TV and radio.
The survey of 2,131 news consumers found that age is also a major factor behind people’s views of climate change. Generally, the younger you are the more concerned you will be:
As a card-carrying member of Gen X, it is rather shaming to find that barely half of us think climate change is either very or extremely serious, given unlike our baby boomer parents our formative years saw increasing temperatures:
But it is not just age – political orientation is also a determinant.
Those who call themselves rightwing are much more likely to deny climate change:
But while this may not be surprising, given their news sources and the statements by rightwing politicians, what is more worrying is that just as many of those who class themselves as “centre” view climate change as merely “somewhat serious”, as do rightwingers.
This suggests a large gulf in the ability of the media to convey the issue’s importance to those with little political affiliation. When it comes to climate change, believing it is only “somewhat serious” essentially means you have not understood the problem.
And it is clear that the media is not getting the message through.
Only 38% of those with a “centre” political orientation believe the media provides “accurate information” on climate change:
We need to be a bit careful with these findings because while rightwingers are more likely to deny climate change, they are also more likely to believe the media is not telling the truth. So it is unclear whether those in the centre believe the media is exaggerating or underplaying the issue.
But while it is easy to lay all the blame at the feet of News Corp and those media organisations and journalists who choose to treat climate change as a debatable concept (or possibly a less than serious one) the report also points to the challenge for those of us in the media who agree with the science.
Over a quarter of those who only regard the issue as “somewhat serious” are disinterested in reading about climate change:
This is the challenge for organisations such as Guardian Australia, the ABC, and the Nine/Fairfax papers who do report on the issue with the seriousness it deserves. It is not enough to preach to the converted.
We need to reach those vaguely aware of the issue but not really informed well enough to understand its seriousness. Failure to do so will cede the issue to the climate-change denying media outlets, and will continue to have Australia with one of the highest numbers of deniers in the world.
• Greg Jericho writes on economics for Guardian Australia