Most media studies in this area have been conducted in developed nations, the authors say, calling for more research of media coverage in developing nations, where they find climate change is covered but less so than in industrialised countries.
The reasons may be country-specific, but they say that one possible cause is a lack of resources for science and environmental journalism in developing countries.
The researchers analysed media coverage of climate change from 1996 to 2010 in 37 leading newspapers in 27 countries, including 14 developing nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Overall, they found that climate change coverage accounted for 0.62 per cent of all articles under study, with a trend of growing media attention.
“Developing countries in general are not obliged to pursue climate mitigation policies and therefore domestic political events or debates triggering media coverage are missing.”
Andreas Schmidt, University of Hamburg
On average, media coverage was lower in particularly vulnerable developing countries, such as Algeria, India and Mexico.
"We show that media attention on climate change in developing countries is in general considerably lower than in industrialised countries," co-author Andreas Schmidt, a researcher at the University of Hamburg, Germany, tells SciDev.Net.
This is probably due to several, country-specific reasons, he says.
"Our main argument is that developing countries in general are not obliged to pursue climate mitigation policies — greenhouse gas reduction efforts — and therefore domestic political events or debates triggering media coverage are missing," he says.
He adds that journalists in developing countries need better training and financial resources to meaningfully report on climate change and its complexities, for example by attending international climate change negotiations.
Lead researcher Mike Schäfer, from the University of Zurich, Switzerland, says that "we don't know that much about these countries' coverage of the phenomenon", adding that about three-quarters of published studies on climate-change communication focus on developed nations.
"Scholarship needs to take developing countries into account more, before we know what to do and how to improve media coverage," Schäfer says.
Nassanga Goretti Linda, associate professor of journalism and communication at Makerere University, Uganda, says the paper offers a "good foundation for other researchers to build on, especially those from developing countries that have few research studies on media and climate coverage.
"Findings from such studies should enable governments and media development agencies to come up with relevant strategies to address climate issues that are applicable to the particular country."
> Link to study abstract
Global Environmental Change doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2013.07.020 (2013)