We will use a specific case study to apply all of our learned concepts in digital communication. The selected case study is the issue of irresponsible coverage of climate change around the world by the media. Our professional media groups are not doing enough to share and promote information about the detrimental effect of climate change on our planet. There is a broad range of media that has published an array of “scientifically-backed” studies that showcase a significant range of scientific findings on the topics surrounding climate change. However there is not enough consistent coverage of this topic in the media or enough emphasis placed on the importance of it. The information that has been published by the media has been confusing to the general public and has not reinforced the specific need for change that the entire planet faces. Media coverage of climate change has had effects on public opinion on climate change, as it mediates the scientific opinion on climate change that the global instrumental temperature record shows increase in recent decades and that the trend is caused mainly by human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases. It is important to note that almost all scientific groups of national or international standing agree with this view.
This topic is important because climate change is often overlooked as there is such divisive, polarized information that has been published, and rather than doing the research the general public is waiting for scientists and governments to figure out their stance on climate change. In addition governments often have economic reasons for insinuating that climate change isn’t real and that the world isn't already decades behind on making strides to combat climate change before our planet is ruined for all life forms.
There are significant ethical issues that are present in the current coverage of climate change. One of the most important ethical rules for journalists to follow is that they must seek the truth and report it. Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair; journalists should be honest and courageous in their information gathering (2014). It is important for journalists to work to minimize harm. By letting climate change exacerbate we are doing immense harm to our planet. Journalists should be working for positive change, not sweeping issues under the rug, by not covering them consistently and honestly in all media. Journalists are also charged with being accountable and transparent. It isn’t ethical that journalists are allowing government and policy makers to dissuade the public from the truth. It is important that digital media professionals follow the best ethical practices when reporting on climate change.
In addition to ethical issues regarding media and their coverage of climate change, there are legal issues that need to be addressed in regard to the issue of climate change in the media. It isn’t illegal for journalists to publish false information as fact. Because of the First Amendment journalists have the right of free speech. But publishing untrue information is distorting the public view on the issue of climate change. In addition to publishing false information journalists tend to focus on human-interest stories instead of scientific content. There is also a news distortion created by the coverage balance. The culture of political journalism has long used the notion of balanced coverage, but recently scientists and scholars have challenged the legitimacy of this journalistic core value in relation to climate change, versus a political campaign.
This topic is important because climate change represents a unique aspect of media culture and the way that is represented by the media will lead to dire detrimental effects on our planet. Climate change is not the same kind of issue as a political campaign. It doesn’t deserve equal coverage on both sides of the issue because climate change is based in scientific fact; it isn’t an opinion or policy issue. This topic is interesting because journalistic law is governed by a code of ethics and has very few actual legal restrictions.
Landmark cases will have an impact on the way that climate change is covered by the media. They set a precedent that will absolutely affect the way that the media can and will cover the issue of climate change. In The New York Times v. The United States it was established that media companies can publish true information and research regardless of the government's position on the issue. In New York Times v. Sullivan the media won and established their right to publish critical coverage of a topic, news event, or even a person in regards to the actual malice standard. The freedom of speech and the First Amendment rights were upheld. That means that a coal company cannot urge media companies to withhold information regarding climate change from the public.
Ford, J. D., & King, D. (2015). Coverage and framing of climate change adaptation in the media: A review of influential North American newspapers during 1993–2013. Environmental Science And Policy, 48137-146. doi:10.1016/j.envsci.2014.12.003
Schmid-Petri, H., & Arlt, D. (2016). Constructing an illusion of scientific uncertainty? Framing climate change in German and British print media. Communications: The European Journal Of Communication Research, 41(3), 265-289. doi:10.1515/commun-2016-0011
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SPJ Code of Ethics. (2014). Retrieved November 5, 2016, from http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp.
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