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The power of protest in the media: examining portrayals of climate activism in UK news

Scheuch, Eric G., Ortiz, Mark, Shreedhar, Ganga ORCID: 0000-0003-2517-2485 and Thomas-Walters, Laura (2024) The power of protest in the media: examining portrayals of climate activism in UK news. Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, 11 (1). ISSN 2662-9992

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Identification Number: 10.1057/s41599-024-02688-0


Over the last several years, the United Kingdom has seen a wave of environmental movements demanding action on the climate crisis. While aligned in their goals, the groups undertaking this activism often diverge on the question of tactics. One such divergence occurred in January 2023, when Extinction Rebellion (XR) declared “We Quit”, ending actions that were disruptive to the general public. Peer groups Just Stop Oil and Animal Rising continued disruptive actions, viewing them as the best way to gain media coverage for their causes. Despite the urgency of addressing climate change and the growing prominence of direct action in British life, little research has examined how the news media covers and reacts to different climate actions. News media plays a vital role in influencing the public’s perception of the climate crisis and “appropriate” responses. We assembled a unique dataset of British news coverage of climate actions over a 7 month period, covering both before and after XR’s “We Quit” statement. Our results reveal that conservative publications cover climate actions more unfavorably and more inaccurately than other publications. Legal actions are generally covered more favorably than illegal ones in both conservative and non-conservative outlets and receive more coverage. Actions that target industry attract more coverage than those that target other actors, while actions that target the public are covered more favorably than those that do not. These results contribute to the scholarly debates surrounding the interaction between social movements and news media, especially on how different strategies potentially influence the extent and affective nature of coverage. They have implications for strategies adopted by climate advocates, depending on whether their goal is merely to draw attention to an issue or if it is to generate positive coverage.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2024 The Author(s)
Divisions: Psychological and Behavioural Science
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HE Transportation and Communications
H Social Sciences
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Date Deposited: 15 Feb 2024 11:27
Last Modified: 29 May 2024 21:30

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