The environment in the headlines. Newspaper coverage of climate change and eutrophication in Finland

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Julkaisun nimi: The environment in the headlines. Newspaper coverage of climate change and eutrophication in Finland
Tekijä: Lyytimäki, Jari
Julkaisija: Finnish Environment Institute
Päiväys: 2012
Kieli: en
Kuuluu julkaisusarjaan: Monographs of the Boreal Environment Research 42
ISBN: 978-952-11-4086-0
ISSN: 1796-1661
Tiivistelmä: Media representations are an important part of the dynamics of contemporary socio-ecological systems. The media agenda influences and interacts with the public and the policy agenda and all of these are connected to the changes of the state of the environment. Partly as a result of media debate, some issues are considered serious environmental problems, some risks are amplified while others are attenuated, and some proposals for remedies are highlighted and others downplayed. Research on environmental media coverage has focused predominantly on the English-speaking industrialised countries. This thesis presents an analysis of Finnish environmental coverage, focusing on representations of climate change and eutrophication from 1990–2010. The main source of material is Helsingin Sanomat (HS), the most widely-read newspaper in Finland. The analysis adopts the perspective of contextual constructivism and the agenda-setting function of the mass media. Selected models describing the evolution of environmental coverage are applied within an interdisciplinary emphasis. The results show that the amount of newspaper content on eutrophication and climate change has generally increased, although both debates have been characterised by intense fluctuations. The volume of the coverage on climate change has been higher than that of eutrophication, especially since 2006. Eutrophication was highlighted most during the late 1990s while the peaks of climate coverage occurred between 2007 and 2009. Two key factors have shaped the coverage of eutrophication. First, the coverage is shaped by ecological factors, especially by the algal occurrences that are largely dependent on weather conditions. Second, the national algal monitoring and communication system run by environmental authorities has provided the media with easy-to-use data on the algal situation during the summertime. The peaks of climate coverage have been caused by an accumulation of several contributing factors. The two most important factors contributing to the increase in coverage since 2006 include international policy negotiations and mild and snowless winters. Between 2006 and 2008, other factors included the releases of major scientific reviews, expressions of concern by key actors, and the related debate on energy policy. Changes in the anthropogenic driving forces of the environmental changes, namely nutrient discharges and greenhouse gas emissions, had only a marginal impact on the level of coverage. Based on the results, it is suggested that wide-ranging climate reporting has caused what has been called a piercing effect. This means that after the phase of intense and widespread media coverage, climate issues will not disappear but will shift from highly visible environmental headlines to less visible but more pervasive background information presented in various contexts. Such a piercing effect was not identified for eutrophication. This thesis highlights the importance of taking media coverage into account as a key factor in the formulation and implementation of environmental policies aimed at broad-based actions.
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