DATA: Why Aren’t Broadcast Networks Covering the Climate Crisis? And Where are the Women?

On Feb. 27, Media Matters for America, a nonprofit media watchdog, released the findings of its annual report on how broadcast television networks ABC, NBC and CBS covered the climate crisis.

The report shows that the conversation around climate change was a minuscule part of overall corporate broadcast coverage in a year of extreme weather incidents and heightened activism worldwide.

Scenes from the September 20, 2019 demonstration in downtown New York as part of the youth-lead global #ClimateStrike. Young people led millions around the world in marches demanding action on climate change days before the UN Climate Action Summit. (UN Women / Amanda Voisard)

Specifically, the study found that:

  • Climate change coverage on the corporate broadcast nightly and Sunday morning news shows on ABC, NBC and CBS made up less than 1 percent of overall coverage in 2019. What’s especially stunning is that the tiny amount of time devoted to climate change in 2019 marks a 68 percent increase from 2018—when coverage cratered.
  • PBS NewsHour once again outpaced the corporate networks in climate coverage. The program aired 121 climate segments—which accounted for more climate segments than ABC, CBS and NBC nightly news shows combined.
  • Once again, ABC was the worst-performing corporate broadcast network in climate coverage. The network aired a combined 34 minutes of climate coverage across 29 segments in 2019. 
  • CBS far outpaced its competitors in the amount of coverage, making up 54 percent of overall climate segments and 50 percent of overall airtime about climate. ABC increased both the length and number of its climate segments from 2018, while NBC’s minutes of coverage actually decreased from 2018.
  • Thirty-eight percent of climate segments in 2019—53 out of a total of 139—occurred in August and September. Both months saw major climate-related developments.
  • Solutions or actions in response to climate change were mentioned in roughly 37 percent of climate segments aired in 2019, marking a sizable increase from 2017 and 2018.

“In 2019, the climate crisis drove young people into the streets, shaped the Democratic primary, and nearly burned an entire continent to the ground, and that is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Allison Fisher, Climate and Energy Program Director, at Media Matters for America. Everyday in every corner of the globe, climate stories both hopeful and horrifying are unfolding. It’s time for broadcast news to start telling these stories.”

In addition to measuring the amount and type of coverage on each network, Media Matters also examined how nightly broadcast television networks discussed climate activism and other major drivers of climate coverage—and the voices that they excluded in the conversation.  Specifically, the study found that:

  • People of color made up only 10 percent percent of guests who were interviewed or featured in the corporate networks’ climate coverage. Communities of color contribute the least to—and care the most about—climate issues, yet suffer the most from the impacts of the climate crisis.
  • Women are more likely to “worry about global warming, think that it is currently harming the U.S., and support certain climate change mitigation policies” than men. However, women were also underrepresented in climate coverage, making up just 27 percent of guests. 
  • Scientists were also largely excluded from climate coverage, making up only 22 percent of guests included in segments related to the climate crisis.
  • Climate activism made up roughly 16 percent of overall climate coverage on the broadcast networks. Most of these segments focused on activist Greta Thunberg and the climate strikes.
  • Major drivers of climate coverage in 2019 included the Green New Deal, climate activism, extreme weather and the 2020 election.

“Broadcast news climate coverage suffered in 2019 because programs excluded the voices of those who understand the most about climate change and who are experiencing the worst of its impact,” said Fisher. “This is why scientists, women, and people of color must play a larger role in national discussions around climate.” 


Media Matters for America is a progressive 501, nonprofit organization, with the stated mission of "comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media."