The environmental movement relies extensively on the mass media to get its message across to the general public, but doing so has its costs.
One study by Michael Nitz and Sharon Jarvis at the University of Arizona found that television news stories tended to “underemphasise risks and overdramatize spins on disputes” and that “coverage is largely episodic, full of isolated dramatic vignettes of conflict and jeopardy in which animals play the starring roles.”
Environmental stories, which were seldom lead stories, lacked background information and only included technical or scientific information 22 per cent of the time. Large corporations that tend to sponsor newscasts and run green advertising campaigns were almost never examined for their environmental record.
During the first Earth Summit in 1992, the media coverage was massive. The media contingent at the conference in Rio numbered in the thousands and came from all over the world. However the mass media coverage of the Summit in the US was patchy according to two different accounts by free lance journalists covering the event. William Ryan, a former editor of the Guardian claimed the US media focused on negotiations over the global warming treaty, Bush’s veto of specific greenhouse gas targets and vanishing rain forests but gave little examination to the “vastly differing Northern and Southern perspectives on who is responsible for destroying the environment, what needs to be done, and who should pay for it.”
J. A Savage, covering the conference for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Ms magazine and Focus magazine, noted that the Global Forum, the conference for non-government organisations that was held in conjunction with the Summit, was scarcely covered; environmentalists quoted were almost always from well-funded US environmental groups; and many issues were neglected. For example the controversial use of the World Bank’s Global Environmental Facility to control and distribute money raised to help poorer countries achieve sustainable development was hardly discussed.