The Online Media Monitor will be composed of different modules. We are still working on the other modules, especially the tool for analyzing online news media.
“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Winston Churchill
Quite a few commentators of the results of the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris (November/December 2015) have evoked this quote from Winston Churchill. It seems that, indeed, Paris marks the end of the beginning of debating anthropogenic climate change.
The world’s political leaders have acknowledged the depth and breadth of the problem and have pledged to act. It will be crucial to hold them accountable of their promises: This is a challenge primarily for journalism and civil society. It will also be a challenge for social scientists to observe and analyze this process. Yet, in our role as citizens we may not only describe and explain but also comment on this process.
The idea of the Media Watch Blog was to provide space for both: presenting an analytical view of the media coverage and the debates surrounding COP 21 through the lens of academic observers from social and climate sciences and allowing for comments in our role as citizens that we would not include in our academic publications.
I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the blog for the great work that generated interesting insights into the debate around COP-21.
This booklet with the blog posts preserves the contributions as they appeared (and as they are still available on this site).
At this point in the history of climate politics, it is important not to forget what has been said and promised in Paris.
How do German citizens perceive climate change? What do they know about climate politics? And how do they evaluate national and international efforts against climate change?
Within the framework of our “Down to Earth” study, we aimed to answer these and further questions with an online survey with more than 2000 persons, conducted in Germany two weeks before this year’s climate conference in Paris.
We outlined the study’s main results in a short research report (in German) which can be downloaded here: Working Paper “Before the COP21: How Germans evaluate climate politics, what they think and what they know about it”.
Vor der UN-Klimakonferenz 2015 (COP 21) – Was die Deutschen von Klimapolitik halten, was sie bewegt und was sie darüber wissen
Wie nehmen die Deutschen den Klimawandel wahr? Was wissen sie über Klimapolitik? Und wie bewerten sie nationale und internationale Bemühungen im Hinblick auf die Bekämpfung des Klimawandels?
Diesen und zahlreichen weiteren Fragen sind wir im Rahmen unserer Studie “Down to Earth” in einer Online-Befragung von mehr als 2000 Personen – durchgeführt in Deutschland zwei Wochen vor der diesjährigen UN-Klimakonferenz in Paris – nachgegangen.
Die zentralen Ergebnisse dieser ersten Befragung haben wir nun in einem kurzen Bericht zusammengefasst, welcher hier abrufbar ist: Arbeitspapier “Vor der UN-Klimakonferenz 2015: Wissen, Einstellungen und Zweifel der Deutschen zum Thema Klimapolitik”
On Saturday morning the COP went past its scheduled finishing time. With successive postponements of the release of the agreement text (which what was going to be, in all likelihood, a watered down, strategically vague version of what the world needed) I found myself wondering what to do.
Having been all week at Le Bourget conference centre as an observer representing the International Environmental Communication Association, I decided to spend that day on the other side of history, the side of the citizens in the streets of Paris who defiantly organized several demonstrations to express their resolve in struggling for a better planet (eventually authorized by the police the day before).
After being prevented from exiting at my intended metro stop (“closed for security reasons”) and then forced to change plans again as buses modified their routes because of the “manifs”, I was lucky enough to walk right into the frontline of a demonstration.
I was at first curious to check how many journalists were present. There were plenty of cameras but I could only see a couple that looked to belong to professionals. I soon realized one video belonged to RTP, the Portuguese public service television. A journalist and cameraman were talking to someone I knew and I ended up being recruited to speak live at the start of one o’clock news as “an observer of the COP”. I hesitated for a bit. I had gone to the demonstrations as an anonymous citizen of a globalized world, one more body to engross the demand of respect for “red lines” (a strong activist icon at this COP), and was now pushed back into my other identity, which I thought I had left behind at Le Bourget.
I was proud to see my country’s public TV awarding much visibility to “civil society” in the stories told about climate change but worried about the kind of image of the day that was going to be constructed.
Two weeks earlier, on the 29 November, the day of the Global Climate March, I had seen that same television company change their normal programming in RTP1 (their main, generalist channel) to connect live to the activists-police clash in the Place de la République in what appeared to be alarmist and sensationalist journalism coverage. There were the police shields, metal barriers and pepper spray; all the usual ingredients of a news article’s “activism-as-violence” narrative.
As many studies (and our own experience as media consumers) suggest, the “violent protest” frame often subsumes any other layers of meaning and modes of affirmation of citizenship. That media imagery is likely to impact on social representations of activism and of activists, and conduce many people to distance themselves from such practices and profiles. It may even promote disengagement with public causes and claims.
In the evening news of RTP1 on 29 November, images of hooded men had opened the coverage. President François Hollande spoke of “disturbing elements”, who were “there to create incidents, not for the climate”. Viewers were told that protesters’ confrontations with police had resulted in arrests and a few wounded people. To be fair, there was also a good amount of coverage of the marches in Portuguese cities (and worldwide), with constructive interviews of some participants. I looked at the news in other public service broadcasters such as BBC World, Deutsche Welle and France 24 and found some references but few outlets placed much emphasis on the “violent protests” (it must be noted that this comparison is not fully adequate as unlike RTP1 these are “news-only” channels and they may have changed their reporting throughout the day).
Back to last Saturday: As I walked with RTP’s crew ahead of the demonstration, I kept wondering about the thought process behind the symbolic construction of the footage of protesters that occurs at different levels of the journalistic and editorial hierarchy within the public service broadcaster. I also thought about what I was going to say and what persona I was going to take up in the screens of one of the biggest channels back in Portugal. There was the “me, the citizen” that was frustrated and had political claims to make. But that was not what the journalist wanted me to speak as. There was the “the academic” side of me that could make a “cooler” analysis of the situation. But an analysis of what? I am a communications scholar and that was not what the journalist wanted me to speak as/about. She wanted me to talk about the agreement. So the “the observer” side of me kept thinking about the observer communities back at the COP and what they thought about draft versions of the agreement.
The UNFCCC awards observer status to multiple types of organizations: business and industry non-governmental organizations (BINGOs), environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs), local government and municipal authorities (LGMAs), indigenous peoples organizations (IPOs), research and independent non-governmental organizations (RINGOs), trade union non-governmental organizations (TUNGOs), farmers and agricultural non-governmental organizations (Farmers), women and gender non-governmental organizations (Women and Gender) and youth non-governmental organizations (YOUNGOs). The nine UNFCCC “constituencies” have, obviously, widely diverse views in many regards. Plus, each of them is a loose group of actors with multiple perspectives and preferred discourses. Furthermore, observers to the COP are not the same as observers to elections: they are there to try to influence the outcome in one way or the other even though they are given very little voice in the process.
I had gone to side events and press conferences by different types of observers throughout the COP and heard the frustration of many of them towards the emerging text. However, as I wrote in another blog post, RINGOs (the constituency I was part of through IECA), were supposedly not advocating a particular outcome, a non-position that makes me wonder whether all of its members identify with it.
Coming back to my live interview, I didn’t have long to reflect upon which observer identity to take up. The microphone was in front of me for a predictably short time after references to a “report” of a girl “beaten up” by the police (which the journalist did not appear to be well informed about) and to the police helicopter up in the air. I ended up sounding more like the academic than a citizen but inserted cautionary “observer” points just before the helicopter was mentioned again.
That evening I watched France24 for several hours, anticipating the celebratory, triumphalist tone and the symbolic dividends that France was going for.
There was nothing about the large, peaceful demonstrations that had taken place a few hours earlier. Looking at the websites of other public broadcasters the story was pretty much the same.
COP21 in Paris ended on Saturday night with a global pact to reduce emissions and keep global warming below two degrees.
It was the first time that all 196 participating countries agreed on such a deal and as such now is a good time to reflect on the eventful two weeks.
While it is too early to be enthusiastic, from my perspective the Paris agreement is an important and essential step in the right direction. Many scientists see the agreement as a surprising success but they leave to us whether this “historic achievement” (Lord Stern) will be a binding contract for the future. For that to occur, at least 55 parties which produce over 55% of the world’s greenhouse gasses, must become party to the agreement.
This post will examine possible directions the debate will shift in the coming years. I will analyse and critically reflect on media coverage from COP21 and focus on public attention over time, based on data from Google Trends. Google Trends is a public web facility that provides information how often a specific search-term is entered into the Google search screen relative to total search-volume. The data is presented as a score between 0 and 100.
Google Trends cannot present an absolute number of queries but the search interest could be seen as an indicator for public attention on different topics or terms. However we should interpret the data carefully and should use the tool more like a starting point for research in the field of communication science.
Figure 1 (below) shows the search interest for the term Climate change over the past three years.
We can see some ups and down in 2013 and 2014 but overall the attention stays at a low level. On the right end of the figure, with the start of the COP21, the search interest reaches its maximum. We can therefore reasonable assume that the conference in Paris had a big influence on the public interest about climate change. If we look back on the past climate conferences in Warsaw (11.11-23.11.2013) or Lima (01.12-12.12.2014) we cannot see any attention peaks. Here we can ask, for example, if the public agenda is more affected by the event itself or the media coverage which usually increases during the events? Further, we should look at what other factors influence Google Trends? Figure 2 shows a comparison for the search terms Climate change and Paris agreement for the last seven days.
We can observe a rise of the search-interest for both terms in the crucial period of the conference. The public started to google Paris agreement with the beginning of the last day of the conference just after the participants defined this term and also after the announcement that an agreement between the participating countries is realistic. These developments also affected the public attention for climate change in general. The decreasing search interest at the end of the conference could be explained with the issue attention cycle. Climate change will be replaced at the center of public awareness by different issues like the conflict in Syria or the refugee crisis.
When 196 nations met in Paris for COP21, the event naturally attracted global attention. It also fostered transnational debates on Twitter.
The Internet and more specifically social media enable many-to-many communication without the limitations of physically doing so, e.g having to convene in one geographical location. I wanted to find out the extent to which COP21 had “gone global” on Twitter. Besides this rather specific question, I was also interested in the general impact of COP21 on Twitter.
Over the last two weeks, I tracked all tweets containing the keyword ‘COP21’ in their text. In total I captured 4’505’988. In terms of tweet volume it was a good start for the conference. On Monday the volume reached a first peak of more than 55’000 tweets in one hour (see Fig. 1). Twitter extra created new emojis for the Paris Climate Conference: Whenever a user used the hashtag #COP21 the logo was automatically shown in the tweet.
Fig. 1: Tweet volume per hour of tweets containing ‘cop21’.
During the first week the tweet volume went down compared to prior to the conference. In the second week the tweet volume was almost as low as pre-conference levels. However, on Saturday with the announcement of the Paris agreement, Twitter exploded again more than 65’000 Tweets in one hour.
Two weeks between #climatemarch and #parisagreement
With such a large data set, many aspects can be analysed. As Warren Pearce has shown in his blog post, a typical analysis can focus on the hashtags being used in tweets. As a first step, I also focused on hashtags contained in tweets, but I was ranking them based on the number of unique users who used the hashtag. The number of times a hashtag appears in a tweet can sometimes be misleading, because a hashtag might be only used by a few bots (machine controlled accounts) that constantly tweet. Not surprisingly #cop21 was the most used hashtag before #climatechange and #climate (see Fig. 2).
Fig. 2: Hashtag word cloud. The larger the hashtag, the more unique users have used it during the last 2 weeks. #COP21 as the most popular hashtag has been removed.
We can see above that #parisagreement and #climatemarch were used by a large number of users. Therefore, the next step in my analysis was to see when these hashtags were used.
Fig. 3: Hashtag volume per hour for the most used hashtags. #COP21 was excluded.
On the one hand the hashtag #climatemarch was popular on 29. November just one day before the start of the conference in Paris (see Fig. 3). On that day the NGO AVAAZ organized a global climate march in many cities around the world in order to put pressure on leaders before the start of the conference. Only on that day the hashtag was trending.
On the other hand #parisagreement was popular on 12 December when the first draft of the agreement was published and peaked after the announcement of the final agreement at the end of the conference.
Automatic replies from a bot
Overall most tweets were retweets (63.7%) followed by single tweets (29.7%) and replies (6.6%). Only in the first week during specific hours replies had a higher volume than single tweets and retweets (see Fig. 4). On closer examination it becomes evident that most replies were sent from @COP21Direct an account extra created for a Twitter campaign: If enough users per day use #COP21 in their tweets a 3D printer in Paris would print the logo of COP21.
@COP21Direct sent automatic replies with a link to the video stream covering the printing process to all users that used the hashtag. Every day the printing process could be observed over a live stream.
Fig. 4: Tweet type volume per hour.
Tweets from outer space
Among the most retweeted users were the usual suspects such as Leonardo DiCaprio, the White House, Narendra Modi, the Dalai Lama and François Hollande. None of them were the most retweeted though – that honour went to Scott Kelly an astronaut who currently serves as Commander of the International Space Station:
Some users quickly questioned if it is an official poster of www.solutionsCOP21.org, but the journalist thought it is a legit one, because it has the official logo of COP21 in the upper left corner. A user finally directs him to the webpage of Brandalism: artists in Paris used fake ads to protest against the corporate sponsorship of COP21.
Artists In Paris Use Fake Ads “Brandalism” To Protest Corporate Sponsorship Of
- Thanks to Twitter this local protest even reached the Japanese Twitter sphere.
COP21 as global event on Twitter
The analysis of the retweets already exemplifies the potential of Twitter to connect users around the world. In a next step I focused on the geo location of the users. The location of a user can possibly be determined with geo tags, but only few users are using them. In my data set only 0.1% of all Tweets contained a geo tag. Still, the location field in user accounts can be used to identify the exact location of a user. Users can freely choose what text they want to enter in this field. For every unique user (937’613) in the data set text from the location field was compared with a data base of cities and countries. For 34% of all users the coordinates could be identified with this method (See Fig 4.).
Fig. 4: The denser the colour, the more users are from the same city or country.
The analysis shows that users from all around the world tweeted about COP21. Around 16% of the users were identified from the USA, 15% from France and around 9% from the UK. Users from India (3%) were also well represented. Overall users from almost 200 different countries could be identified.
The same can be observed with the language of the tweets. Twitter automatically detects the language of a Tweet. Around 52% of Tweets are in English, 27% in French, 10% in Spanish and around 2% in Japanese.
First of all, Twitter typically reflects the real world events around COP21. The hashtags clearly indicated when the climate march took place and when the Paris agreement was finally reached. Secondly, during the event many different methods of digital campaigning were used such as live streams, flooding twitter with the help of bot accounts and online campaign pages asking users to send a tweet to leaders. Thirdly, COP21 is also a global Twitter event: Users from all around the world were tweeting about COP21. Nowadays it is even possible to send Tweets from outer space back to earth.
 In my data set this was the case with #sassousi, a hashtag in reference to the Congolese president Denis Sassou Nguesso. The hashtag has been used 56’206 times by only 319 users. A good example of such a bot account is @JeVoteNon.
 The low number of replies in the data set can be explained with the sampling process. Tweets about cop21 often attracted replies but users writing replies usually did not mention cop21 again in their replies because the topic of the conversation was already clear. The same holds true for hashtags. Users use less frequent hashtags in their replies than in single tweets.
 This analysis is based on a modified version of code from Jeff Leek: http://biostat.jhsph.edu/~jleek/code/twitterMap.R
 WWF Indonesia for example created a page that helps to automatically generate a tweet in which a user can address a global leader. Such a page might be used for a good cause but it is a questionable practice an falls into the category of digital astroturfing.
It has become accepted wisdom here that Paris 2015 is not Copenhagen 2009. This time, the US and China are on board; the price of renewables has dropped by more than half; the vast majority of countries have already pledged emission cuts and Paris is seen as a “staging post”, rather than a final destination.
But in one way at least, Paris 2015 is a re-run of 2009 Copenhagen. There are a staggering 3,700 ‘media representatives’ accredited in attendance, which is just short of the 4,000 (from 119 countries) present at Copenhagen.
This makes these summits some of the most reported political events to take place globally. Some say that only the World Cup and Olympics attract more journalists.
The sheer volume of content which is produced on an array of platforms offers rich pickings for media scholars.
But the revolution – even since Copenhagen – in the way journalists (paid or otherwise) produce news, the content of that news, and how that news is consumed throws up significant research challenges.
Here are five issues I have been pondering while also following media reporting of the summit. Some of them have already been discussed in previous posts, and there are of course many more, nonetheless:
- Changes in consumption: this year’s Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute, based on interviews with 23,000 online users in 12 countries, clearly maps the rapid change in how people, and particularly those under 35, consume news. The smartphone has risen rapidly in most countries as the defining device for digital news with a disruptive impact on consumption, formats, and business models.
Then you have to throw in the rapid rise of video content, the role of social media like Twitter and Facebook in finding, discussing and sharing news, and the decline of print, and we have a very different media world from that of Copenhagen just six years ago. Print is now the main source of news for only between 6% and 12% of those surveyed, depending on the age group. For how long should we bother with print?
- The arrival of new(-ish) players: the Digital News Report also charts the rapid rise of ‘digital natives’, based on social and mobile distribution. In the English-speaking world at least, Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and Vice are now significant competitors to legacy media brands, particularly for younger age groups. And they are investing heavily in other languages and their news gathering capacity.
All three cover the environment and climate change extensively, but in different ways. HuffPo relies extensively on blogposts, Vice on ‘personal narration’ video, and BuzzFeed on a mix of listicles, quizzes, photo galleries and irreverent content.
One challenge for researchers is how to analyse their content, when all of it is sent out via social media and is difficult to pin down via traditional search engines. Another is to assess whether these new sites verge into campaigning or advocacy journalism.
- The increase in niche sites: Another major development since Copenhagen is the proliferation of niche sites on the climate or green issues, which have a profound influence over legacy media as a source and agenda-setter.
The list is extensive, but in the UK there is Carbon Brief, Business Green, Climate Home, the Energy and Climate Change Intelligence Unit (ECIU), some of them lead by former mainstream journalists. There are several in the USA, and many other countries have their equivalents.
For the journalist, campaigner, and climate change aficionado, these are invaluable sources of information. The decline of specialist journalism in some countries’ legacy media may in some sense have been compensated by the boom in such sites.
- New narratives: Have the dominant narratives or frames around climate changed, and if so how? A very impressionistic take on coverage from Paris suggests that there are significantly more stories about renewables, new technologies, and business opportunities.
Such stories are one indication of how media narratives about climate change may be becoming more about hope and opportunity, and less about the more traditional doom and gloom.
In part, this may be due to a realization that the transition to a low-carbon economy is inevitable, even though the pace of it is uncertain.
But for some media organisations like the Guardian, more messages of hope form part of a deliberate editorial policy driven in part by readers’ wishes.
- Sceptics and polarization: An obsession of mine I know, but one trend I am interested in is whether we have seen a polarization in the media along political lines in their editorial approach to giving presence to sceptics. It is probably true in the UK, but it may be true of the USA and Australia too.
One interesting and frequent observation here is that in Paris the sceptics have become more marginal. That’s in sharp contrast to Copenhagen, when the ‘Climategate affair’ received considerable coverage, offering plenty of traction to sceptics particularly in the UK and USA.
These and other issues will be addressed in a new project the Reuters Institute is coordinating in six countries about the way new players like BuzzFeed, Vice and Huffington Post are covering environmental news. This includes climate change and the Paris summit – and how these relative newcomers differ from legacy players.
It should provide some insight into the ways the media landscape at Paris 2015 is indeed not that of Copenhagen 2009.
Zi is a Chinese journalist currently working towards her master’s in journalism and globalisation in Hamburg.
On 11 December, CCTV posted 2 stories relating to the conference. One story titled ‘China denies rejection by ambition coalition at climate change conference’ emphasized China’s efforts on fighting against climate change by covering Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying’s speech at the climate change conference. The other one focused on US-China relations, titled ‘Chinese, U.S. presidents exchange views on climate conference, bilateral ties over phone’. This piece stressed the successful communication between China and the U.S. over climate change issues and called for strengthening coordination to reach agreement.
Compared to other mainstream media outlets, China Daily posted many more news stories about climate change. There were 18 articles related to Paris talks published on China Daily main site and China Daily USA, China Daily Europe. Nevertheless, they all focus on China’s positive attitude towards coming up with effective global solutions to climate change. In addition, most articles talked about US-China relations, pointing out that conflict should be avoided for the interests of the two countries and international community. Overall, all stories try to promote China’s positive image and emphasis China’s ‘encouraging progress’.
Since CCTV, China Daily and People’s Daily are all state-run media, they often publish the same or very similar articles. Four news stories published on 11 December are also published on China Daily.
Other main media outlets in Chinese language mainly report the fact that the Paris climate conference was extended by one day. Besides that, China being excluded from the high ambition coalition was a topic many of the articles focused on.
During the past two weeks of the UN summit, we have read about the problems that civil society actors have faced in making their voices heard.
Following on from the November 13 Paris terror attacks protests and other public events were banned in the city. Under these circumstances, social media represent a means through which civil society organisations can stand up for what they believe in and receive public attention.
In this blog post, I want to take a look at the climate change debate taking place on twitter, and the actors participating in it. During the conference, I have collected tweets using Google Tags based on the hashtag #climatechange. The following preliminary analyses are based on tweets collected between 30th of November and 8th of December 2015.
The ten most active twitter users in the sample were: MercianRockyRex, BLUEdotRegister, ClimateWise2015, Denovo777, PlantsLoveCO2, NiliMajumder, ArBolivia1, neils_rt, EcoFashion2015, CircularEco. Among the most active users, the traditional big NGOs are not to be found. They nevertheless play an important role, when it comes to online conversations, i.e. being directly addressed, mentioned, and re-tweeted by other users. For the visual analyses below, I have taken a random sample of 10,000 tweets.
Figure 1 visualises the actor network of the #climatechange debate, highlighting the most central actors in the network. As can be seen, civil society actors have indeed been very central in the online climate change debate. Among the most central actors are UNICEF, Greenpeace, and the World Economic Forum. But it also evident there are many isolated users expressing themselves without engaging into discussions with any of the central actors.
Figure 2 shows the most popular hashtags used by the users in the network above. Of course, since the data was collected based on the #climatechange, it is the predominant hashtag. Yet, hashtags calling for action, such as #climateaction, #actionday, and #climatemarch also play an important role in the debate.
Of course, it remains to be seen to what extent the social media activity of civil society actors has an impact on the outcome of the UN summit. However, during these last days of the conference, it has been civil society organisations, voicing the view, that the current options are insufficient.
As of last night Paris time, a deal was struck by nearly all nations represented at COP21 to limit warming to under 2C from preindustrial levels.
As the COP 21 comes to an end, the main focus of the coverage of Spanish and Portuguese newspapers on Friday (Dec 11) was the announcement that the release of the final agreement had been postponed.
Prominent newspapers from each country El País, El Mundo (Spain) and Público (Portugal) had correspondents at the Summit, while others used texts from news agencies.
The coverage of the developments of the agreement did not differ greatly from one newspaper to another. However, outlets did provide different perspectives on the discussion of climate change in general:
In Spain, El Pais had an exclusive section of its online edition dedicated to the coverage of the Climate Conference, while El Mundo featured articles under a tag “Climate Change”. Both outlets portrayed headlines highlighting the pressure for a final draft of the agreement to be achieved soon, as well as more analytical and opinion articles about climate change.
El Mundo shared stories raising the opinion of experts and journalists specialized in the field, while El País gave space to people and organizations to write stories on the matter. An example is a piece published by the UN Development Program focusing on Latin America and the challenges posed by climate change.
ABC (Spanish version) focuses primarily on the agreement that is about to be released. A characteristic that could be identified in ABC’s coverage is a prominent European perspective. This can be seen in articles relating to European standards of carbon emissions and interview with EU Commissioner for climate action on the expectations for the final agreement.
20 minutos (Spain) also portrays the climate conference as a special section of its online version. The newspaper does not have analytical or opinion articles, focusing mainly on the events happening in Paris, both inside the meeting rooms and outside, for example it published stories on protests taking place in front of the Conference’s building. A distinctive factor in regard to Spanish coverage is that both outlets featured stories with scientists and experts point of view in relation to the agreement, also adopting a more critical view of the goals established by the document.
In Portugal, daily coverage of the Conference can be found in newspapers Público and Diário de Notícias. Público had an editorial questioning the goals set by the countries, and Diário de Notícias published an article where scientists defining as “inconsistent” the first draft of the agreement stating that it does not establish proper goals that would be able to tackle climate change.