The press and global environmental change: an international comparison of elite newspaper reporting on the acid rain issue from 1972 to 1992
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CitationClark, W.C. and N.M. Dickson. 1995. "The press and global environmental change : an international comparison of elite newspaper reporting on the acid rain issue from 1972 to 1992." Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs Discussion Paper, Report 95, (Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Cambridge, MA).
AbstractIn an increasingly democratic world, the press would seem destined for ever more pivotal roles in the policy process. Yet in a world that is also increasingly interdependent, with each nation's affairs increasingly affecting and affected by others, it is far from clear just what those roles might be. Does the press, by .reporting "the way it is" in places far from home exert an international homogenizing influence? Or does its habit of searching for a local "angle" on even the most global issues push policy debates towards an emphasis on special interests rather than common cause? How does press coverage of an issue in one country affect, and how is it affected by, press coverage in others? Do the roles played by the press in the policy process vary significantly across countries? Or is such variation swamped by country variation associated with different media, audiences, and editorial policies within countries? For those officials and experts used as news sources by the press, to what extent do the assumptions regarding the press developed through experience in their home countries provide reliable guidance for dealing with the press in other countries?
These and related questions arise with respect to press coverage of most policy issues. Our focus here is on the roles of the press in development of environmental issues. In particular, we are interested in how the press has dealt with the emergence of multinational, transboundary, or more generally "global" environmental issues over the last several decades. What has been the role of the press, nationally and internationally, in setting such issues on the policy agenda? What is and what should be the role of the press in shaping social responses to global environmental problems? What criteria should be used to evaluate the contribution of the press to the development of sound public policy on global environmental risks? How can the communication of science-laden ideas through the press be improved?
The study reported here is a preliminary effort to explore such questions.2 It is conducted from the practical perspective of environmental scholars and policy analysts anxious to understand the roles of the press in the sorts of issues we deal with, to identify what seems to be working well and what badly in interactions among the press and the major newsworthy "players" in such issues, and to suggest some modest and pragmatic efforts that might be undertaken to facilitate improvements in those interactions. We are well aware that most of us involved in this effort are not professional scholars of press and politics. In our defense, we can only say that if such professional scholars had addressed the sorts of long-term, cross-national questions that we believe are central to understanding the role of the press in contemporary environmental affairs, we would have happily contented ourselves with reading their research and using it to inform our own. Our hope is simply that this preliminary investigation will raise questions and suggest patterns that others, more adequately equipped to the task, will find worth pursuing.
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