The media coverage of environmental issues is both affected by and reflected in the public debate. The public interest in environmental issues emerged in the 1960s in the Western world, and at the beginning of the 1970s they had become established both in the political debate and on the media agenda. In the Swedish election campaign of 1988 – the so-called environmental election – the environmental issues were placed at the top of the agenda of political parties, voters as well as media.
A few years later, the public’s interest in environmental issues started to decline. A large number of surveys in the 1990s and the beginning of the new millennium indicated that fewer and fewer individuals perceived the environmental issues to be important political issues. This change in public opinion coincided with decreasing media coverage of environmental issues and with a significant downsizing of environmental journalism at editorial offices around the country. Today, the pendulum seems to be swinging back – environmental issues seem to have returned to the public debate, especially when it comes to climate issues, although the recent global financial crisis has overshadowed just about everything else in the last few years. We know from previous research that both decision makers’ and the public’s perceptions of reality are strongly influenced by the priorities set by mass media. We know considerably less about how and why the focus of environmental journalism has changed since the turn of the century, and about whether and how the picture of the environmental issues differs from the picture presented by news journalism in the 1960s and 1970s.
The project Spirals of Attention. Environmental Journalism in the Swedish News Media investigates the emergence and development of environmental journalism in TV and press news journalism 1961 onward. The central research questions include: What attention have environmental issues received in the 50+ years that have passed since they first emerged in the public debate? What picture of the causes, consequences and solutions of the environmental problems has dominated in different time periods?