For Immediate Release

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Rebecca Sturtevant, rsturtevant@mediamatters.org  

New Study: Broadcast TV Networks Coverage of the Climate Crisis Plummeted in 2020

During a year where climate change took center stage during the presidential debates, coverage on nightly news and Sunday morning political programs decreased by 53%.

WASHINGTON - Media Matters for America's annual study analyzing coverage of climate change on corporate broadcast nightly news and Sunday morning political shows found that in 2020, coverage on ABC, CBS, and NBC plummeted by 53%. Overall coverage on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday fell from an already dismal 0.7% in 2019 to 0.4% in 2020. Of real concern, nightly news and Sunday morning political shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC all decreased the amount of minutes and segments of climate coverage, despite numerous climate-fueled extreme weather events, repeated attacks on the environment by the Trump administration, and a presidential election in which climate change took center stage.

While the decline in climate change coverage is likely due to the hyperfocus on the deadly coronavirus pandemic that dominated news cycles for much of the year, corporate broadcast TV news also failed to expose the ways the climate crisis intertwined with the pandemic in 2020, with nightly news and Sunday morning political shows making the connection only three times.

“Like everything else it touched, the pandemic left its fingerprints on broadcast TV news climate coverage in 2020,” said Media Matters Climate and Energy Program Researcher Ted MacDonald and author of this study. “Coverage of the coronavirus certainly -- and understandably -- took airtime from the climate crisis, but it also provided valuable lessons. While the pandemic and the climate crisis are inexorably linked, corporate broadcast TV news largely failed to report on the connection between these two crises.”

Specifically, Media Matters’ study found that:

  • Climate change coverage on ABC, CBS, and NBC’s nightly news and Sunday morning political news shows, including Fox Broadcast Co.’s Fox News Sunday, made up less than 0.4% of overall coverage in 2020 -- down from 0.7% of the total coverage in 2019 -- making 2020 the fifth worst year for climate coverage in the 12 years that this study has been produced.
  • People of color made up only 8% percent of the 89 guests who were interviewed or featured in the corporate broadcast networks’ evening news and Sunday morning political shows on climate coverage, down from 2019. 
  • Women of color were also largely missing from the overall conversation. Women made up 28% of guests on nightly news and Sunday morning shows -- with only six of the 89 guests being women of color. 
  • Climate activists’ voices were largely left out of the conversation in 2020, with Greta Thunberg being the only climate activist featured in a climate segment. This is a move away from one of the big drivers of climate change coverage in 2019.
  • There was also a distinct lack of scientists featured in climate segments on nightly news and Sunday political programs, with scientists making up only 10 out of 89 guests on nightly news and Sunday morning political shows -- including only three climate scientists.

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VIEW THE FULL STUDY HERE: https://www.mediamatters.org/broadcast-networks/how-broadcast-tv-networks-covered-climate-change-2020.

“Year after year, broadcast news programs have failed to deliver climate coverage that adequately reflects the scale of the climate crisis or the voices of those who are now experiencing or will soon inherit the worst of its impact, and 2020 is no different,” said Media Matters Climate and Energy Program Director Allison Fisher. “It’s past time to start centering women, people of color, and activists in climate coverage that is commensurate with the urgency of the climate crisis and driven by the boldest solutions to address it.”

Media Matters examined 2020 news coverage of climate change on corporate broadcast TV networks ABC, CBS, and NBC’s night news and Sunday morning political shows, counting and analyzing segments devoted to climate change and segments in which an employee of the network incorporated climate change or engaged with a guest who brought up climate change.

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Media Matters for America is a Web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.

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