We know that the majority of people in most countries of the world get their information about science, health and environmental issues from the media. In the case of the corona virus for example, in the UK most people rely heavily on news organizations for trusted information.
As for climate change, recent data from 40 countries shows the public pay most attention to television (35%) followed by the online sites of mainstream media organizations (15%). As a sign of the times, printed newspapers are now less important as a source than conversations with family and friends.
So it is important to study broadcast and mainstream online sites if you want insights into how the media is setting the agenda on a range of contemporary issues, determining what the public think is important, and shaping the manner in which discussions about them take place.
A team of us have looked at recent online coverage of two such issues – animal agriculture and its links to climate change, and lab-grown (or cultured) meat as an alternative to meat eating.
Focus group work in several countries has shown that public awareness of the link between animal food consumption and climate change is low; this may be one of many obstacles to more effective interventions to reduce meat consumption in Western diets, which has been proposed by many research institutions.
A small amount of previous research has shown that in the past, the media has paid little attention to animal agriculture’s role in climate change even though we know that it is a major producer of greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to about 15 per cent of global emissions - approximately the same size as the transportation sector.
Our study updates this research by focusing on the level of attention to this issue in the UK and US elite media from 2006 to 2018. But we were also interested in several other research questions including the causes and solutions discussed, and the roles and responsibilities of various parties in addressing the problem.
The results show that during that period, volume of coverage remained low. However, it did pick up in 2018 mostly driven by coverage from the Guardian of recent scientific papers, including some associated with LEAP.
When the issue was covered, consumer responsibility was mentioned more than that of governments or large-scale livestock farms. In similar fashion, a range of options around personal dietary change was far more prominent in the media discussion of solutions than government policies, reforming agricultural practices or holding major animal food companies accountable for their emissions.
For example, government regulation or taxes were mentioned in our media sample much less than consumer solutions, a result which is mirrored in government responsibility being mentioned five times less than consumer responsibility.