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[LONDON] Sceptical views on man-made climate change have received far less newspaper coverage in major developing countries than in the United Kingdom or the United States, according to a survey.

In the United States, over a third of climate articles published during the study period in selected newspapers reported sceptical standpoints while less than eight per cent of articles did so in Brazil, China and India.

The reasons include a greater willingness to accept the authority of scientific experts, the lack of powerful industrial lobby groups, and different journalistic cultures, according to researchers from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom.

Another factor, suggest the researchers, is that developing countries are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, and are focussing their efforts on responding to it, rather than discussing whether it exists or whether human activity is responsible.

The survey, 'Poles Apart — The international reporting of climate scepticism', funded by the British Council, was based on an analysis of over 3,000 articles in two newspapers from each of six countries:  Brazil, China, France, India, the United Kingdom and the United States.

It focused on a period from the end of 2009 to the beginning of 2010, which included both the ill-fated Copenhagen climate conference and the so-called 'Climategate' affair, when climate researchers at the UK's University of East Anglia were accused of manipulating data in research papers about climate change.

The Brazilian, Chinese and Indian newspapers ran only three editorials about the views of sceptics, all of which essentially dismissed their viewpoint. In contrast, one US newspaper alone — the Wall Street Journal — ran 12 editorials containing the views of sceptics, only one of which was critical of the sceptical viewpoint.

Sceptics' views were particularly rare in the two Brazilian newspapers studied, Folha de São Paulo and O Estado de São Paulo, at one and three per cent respectively. This may be because both newspapers have strong science units that "were very influential over how they [the newspapers] covered climate change" said James Painter, the author of the survey, at the survey's launch in London yesterday.

He added that the presence of strong environmental non-governmental organisations, and  a relatively low number of climate sceptics, as well as the Indian government's successful portrayal of climate change as an issue on which Indian interests were threatened by external forces, were some of the reasons that explain low prevalence of sceptic views in Indian newspapers.

In China, the number of newspaper articles quoting sceptical views decreased between 2007 and 2009.

Rebecca Nadin, director of the British Council's climate and sustainability project and contributor to the China section of the report, suggested one reason for this was that "in China, there is a very clear position from the government that climate change is real, and the issue is not politically contentious".

"As a result, the debate is about how the government plans to tackle it, at both a national and international level, and how its policy will be implemented," she said.

Bob Ward, director of policy and communications at the UK's Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, at the UK's London School of Economics, said that developing countries, such as China, were also beginning see economic advantages in producing and exporting new technologies designed to adapt to global warming. As a result, climate change was becoming framed as an opportunity rather than a burden.

Link to the executive summary of the survey  [129kB]