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Protecting the Gulf: Climate change coverage in GCC print media

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Abstract

This paper explores the range and type of coverage that climate change has received over a five-year period in the English-language press in the six member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), namely Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Using a coding scheme that has been successfully employed in previous research, the coverage is examined based on several factors, for example, the dominant frame of the story, the number of stories and word count, which sources are quoted, and whether or not blame is attributed. As the salience of the issue ebbs and flows in the world press and for global populations, examining coverage in the regional press of supranational organizations (such as the EU, ASEAN, and the GCC) represents another interesting avenue for research as the potential for future conflict among nations resulting from climate change becomes more of a reality. Results show that climate change receives varied coverage in the Gulf press; researchers and government officials tend to be used as sources; roughly half of the sampled articles mention risks and discuss potential solutions. The stories tend to revolve around energy, conservation, and weather-related topics, while at the same time approximately half mention “man” as to blame for the problem.
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CULTURE, MEDIA & FILM | RESEARCH ARTICLE
Protecting the Gulf: Climate change coverage in
GCC print media
Bradley C. Freeman
Cogent Arts & Humanities (2016), 3: 1212690
Freeman, Cogent Arts & Humanities (2016),
3: 1212690
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/23311983.2016.1212690
CULTURE, MEDIA & FILM | RESEARCH ARTICLE
Protecting the Gulf: Climate change coverage in GCC
print media
Bradley C. Freeman
1
*
Abstract:This paper explores the range and type of coverage that climate change
has received over a five-year period in the English-language press in the six mem-
ber countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), namely Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman,
Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Using a coding scheme that has
been successfully employed in previous research, the coverage is examined based on
several factors, for example, the dominant frame of the story, the number of stories
and word count, which sources are quoted, and whether or not blame is attributed.
As the salience of the issue ebbs and flows in the world press and for global popula-
tions, examining coverage in the regional press of supranational organizations (such
as the EU, ASEAN, and the GCC) represents another interesting avenue for research as
the potential for future conflict among nations resulting from climate change be-
comes more of a reality. Results show that climate change receives varied coverage
in the Gulf press; researchers and government ocials tend to be used as sources;
roughly half of the sampled articles mention risks and discuss potential solutions. The
stories tend to revolve around energy, conservation, and weather-related topics, while
at the same time approximately half mention “man” as to blame for the problem.
Subjects: Environmental Communication; Journalism & Professional Media; Media &
Communications
Keywords: media; environment; climate change; GCC; media framing
*Corresponding author: Bradley C.
Freeman, Mohammed Bin Rashid
School for Communication, American
University in Dubai, Al Asad Street,
Media City, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
E-mail: bfreeman@aud.edu
Reviewing editor:
Lincoln Geraghty, University of
Portsmouth, UK
Additional information is available at
the end of the article
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr Bradley C. Freeman (PhD., Syracuse) is Associate
Professor of Communication & Information
Studies at the Mohammed bin Rashid School for
Communication at the American University in
Dubai. He has contributed articles and papers on
a wide variety of topics in popular and academic
publications. His research interests are varied, but
tend to deal with pop culture, new media, and
news coverage and analysis. He brings a global,
cross-cultural perspective along with comparative
insights to his research investigations.
PUBLIC INTEREST STATEMENT
This paper explores the range and type of coverage
that climate change has received over a five-
year period in the English-language press of the
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The coverage is
examined based on several factors, for example,
the dominant frame within the story, the sheer
number of stories, which sources are quoted, and
whether or not blame is attributed. As the salience
of the issue ebbs and flows in the world press and
for global populations, examining coverage in
the regional press of supranational organizations
(such as the EU, ASEAN, and the GCC) represents
another interesting avenue for research. Climate
change receives varied coverage in the Gulf press;
researchers and government ocials are used as
sources; roughly half of the articles mention “risks”
and discuss potential “solutions”. The stories
tend to revolve around energy, conservation,
and weather-related topics, approximately half
mention “man” as to blame for the problem.
Received: 02 March 2016
Accepted: 06 July 2016
Published: 27 July 2016
© 2016 The Author(s). This open access article is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution
(CC-BY) 4.0 license.
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Bradley C. Freeman
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1. Introduction
There are no shortages of news reports and academic papers on the subject of climate change and
the media. The amount of information being generated can be overwhelming to anyone attempting
to wade into the subject matter. The current paper seeks to join the conversation in one small way
by presenting data unique to a region and supranational organization whose media has only re-
cently begun being explored and analyzed in greater depth: the Arabian/Persian Gulf and the Gulf
Cooperation Council (GCC). Interestingly, the acronym for this supranational organization “GCC” is
also often used as representative of the problem faced: global climate change. While we are learning
more about how the media represent environmental issues in North America and Europe, even
Oceania, and what this means for the respective societies, we do not yet have critical information
from a region arguably closest to the heart of the matter. This study has the goal of shedding light
on how this important topic is treated in this principal region’s print media.
1.1. Climate change as news
The issue of climate change is undoubtedly one of the most important that humankind has faced.
Yet as important as it is, it is merely one of hundreds of news items that may or may not be regularly
reported in the news media. How the issue is treated in the press is a relevant inquiry to make, as
research clearly indicates that an issue’s salience in the media can translate directly into relevance
in people’s minds (e.g. agenda-setting research). We also know that media coverage is also linked to
more than just awareness of a topic, and it can also have an eect on policy debates and attitudes
among audiences for example (Carvalho & Burgess, 2005).
We know that because climate change is dicult for one person to openly observe, and specific
weather events and other environmental news items are not always directly linked to the larger is-
sue of climate change, the ways that media stories are written or produced vary considerably and
depend largely on media workers making explicit connections and reporting such through their out-
lets. However, the business of mediated news and the routines that have developed tend to favor
certain kinds of coverage vs. others in the media. That is to say, news producers look for specific
crises, or spectacular events, often utilizing an episodic lens through which stories may be relayed to
audiences. A specific list of news values has been oered that takes into account aspects to every
story and the likelihood that it will or will not make it into the day’s news cycle. This ties in with gate-
keeping theory, which again, gives us insight into which items make it into the news and which do
not (for more on gatekeeping see Shoemaker & Vos, 2009). If there is no specific event, then the
topic will be less likely to receive coverage in the media. The issue of climate change may be impor-
tant in the long term, but it may not receive ample coverage in the immediate short term. As a result,
and regardless of Al Gore’s (Guggenheim, 2006) and Leonardo DiCaprio’s eorts (Conners et al.,
2008), the salience of global climate change may be reduced for the public who are likely dealing
with more pressing issues, or things that are more immediately impactful on their lives; even the
shift of presidential attention to issues such as jobs and the economy over climate change highlights
this situation (see Nisbet, 2009).
The media’s attention to the problem of climate change varies considerably, with many factors
responsible for such variance (Anderson, 2009; Boyko, 2011; Shehata & Hopmann, 2012). One
study found that coverage was events-based in France, whereas in the USA, “conflicts between sci-
entists and politicians” (Brossard, Shanahan, & McComas, 2004, p. 359) received more emphasis.
Coinciding with this, other studies have suggested that over the years, scientists were quoted less,
and politicians more, as the topic became politicized. Another suggested that the issue of climate
change was too abstract, that journalists did not have the proper background to assess the details,
that there was a false sense of balance in the reports, and that scientists were not providing jargon-
free language so that journalists and the public might easily understand the issue (Aram, 2011).
The topic may become relevant to news outfits when the issue is addressed in some way by gov-
ernment or supranational body ocials, who may be dealing with incidences or policies that are
linked to climate change. So besides having actual events occurring naturally in the environment,
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which is likely to be covered, we may see elites or organizations raising the issue and thus drawing
news attention, for example by commissioning and issuing an environmental impact report (e.g.
Strategic planning will focus on climate change, 2010). Schäfer, Ivanova, and Schmidt (2014), for
instance, indicated that international climate summits and agenda-building eorts of NGOs had a
strong impact on issue attention, more so than weather events. This is likely also the case in the Gulf
region where newspapers engage in a type of protocol journalism practicing “non-adversarial forms
of journalism common in Gulf states, relying heavily on protocol news and content supplied by gov-
ernment and corporations” (Reinisch, 2010, n.p.), which emphasizes the importance of covering of-
ficial activities and pronouncements (usually government-driven). Pejman called this type of writing
“receive and see-o journalism” (2009, p. 5). Again, research has shown that coverage can lead to
increased awareness of—if not always action upon—an issue. At the same time, the public relations
literature informs us that actors are more and more able to recognize that getting out in front of an
issue allows potentially for greater control of the narrative surrounding any story. That is to say, if an
ocial of the GCC issues a press release, they are able to address the issue, while at the same time
encourage a specific kind of coverage on the subject (i.e. the frame).
While a given country may not see a need to address or take immediate action on an issue
prompted by climate change, another country may be suering the consequences of inaction. As a
result of competition for and protection of natural resources, and the potentials for one country’s
policies to impact another, supranational organizations are becoming increasingly relevant in deal-
ing with matters of regional and international dealings, including climate change.
1.2. The study’s questions
The current research paper aims to enter into the dialogue on climate change by providing a frame-
based, descriptive analysis of climate change coverage in the print media of the GCC countries. The
paper explores the range and type of coverage that climate change has received longitudinally over
a five-year period in the English-language newspapers of the six member countries of the GCC,
namely Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. In compiling this
account, the issue of climate change coverage in these countries can be considered and potentially
compared to other nations and regions, and may be useful for other studies investigating climate
change from similar and diering perspectives. The power of comparison lies in the examination of
the coverage among the six GCC countries. Previously, Eskjaer used a “comparative regional ap-
proach” (Fugl Eskjaer, 2009, p. 358) to look at newspaper coverage of climate change in Danish and
Middle Eastern newspapers—finding that the “vast majority of articles on climate change are viewed
from the perspective of international politics” (p. 361).
While there is a growing acknowledgment that scholars must relate content analysis with audi-
ence reactions and policy decisions (Boyko & Goodman, 2013; Howland, Becker, & Prelli, 2006;
Olausson, 2011), the current paper has only a limited scope—to examine one important element,
the newspaper coverage of climate change. Its original contribution is in the media that are re-
viewed and compared: English-language newspapers in the Gulf region. The research questions are
as follows:
RQ1: What kind of coverage does the topic of climate change receive in GCC newspapers?
The first research question addresses the core issue of how climate change has been covered and
portrayed in the Gulf region. Moving beyond the descriptive information, which is in itself important,
we wanted to uncover the types of frames and meanings in the media discourse on environmental
matters in the region. After taking into consideration other literature (Neuman, Just, & Crigler, 1992;
Semetko & Valkenburg, 2000; Trumbo, 1996; Valkenburg, Semetko, & de Vreese, 1999), it was de-
cided to use Trumbo’s (1996) classifications to (1) identify four frame types: problems, causes, judg-
ments, and remedies. We also take the examination further by coding for the (2) narrative news
content category (Bosompra, 1989; Bush, 1960); further what (3) environmental category they fell
into (McGeachy, 1989; Rubin & Sachs, 1973). We were also interested in whether or not and the
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degree to which the articles contained any (4) “risk” messages (categories adopted from McGeachy,
1989); previous studies have found that risk messages have been “chosen and shaped by journalists
on the basis of their own exigencies” (Wakefield & Elliott, 2003, p. 216). All of these elements tell us
additionally about the frame or at the least shed light on the way the topic is covered. Moreover,
investigating these items contributed to our ability to answer the remaining questions.
There are some dierent suggestions regarding how to go about determining the frames of news
articles, the interpretive commentary be it latent or manifest beside the informational content of the
news article. Hertog and McLeod (2001) cautioned that too often scholars are generating “a unique
set of frames for every study” (p. 151). We wanted to accept this counsel and follow closely the tax-
onomies that have been previously suggested. We also wanted to take advantage of the conditions
mentioned in previous literature to augment the coding scheme and fully examine the articles and
potentially develop a summarizing path for article exploration on this topic. Originally, we wanted to
examine whether stories followed more thematic or episodic frames; however, once we decided to
gather articles using the keyword “climate change”, it was determined that the nature of the term
itself would mean that articles would probably have a tendency to lean toward the thematic be-
cause the concept of climate change is inherently linked to a more general “big picture” context. In
fact, Tillinghast and McCann (2013) found just that in their examination of four magazines’ cover-
age—over a twenty year period, it shifted from being episodic to thematic.
RQ2: Do the articles list risks and/or solutions that are related to climate change?
A number of climate change articles have examined the issue of risk assessment and uncertainty
in relation to climate change (Greenberg, Sachsman, Sandman, & Salomone, 1989; Painter, 2013;
Smith, 2005). This research question addresses that issue in this study to add to our understanding
of this area in the research literature.
RQ3: What types of sources, if any, do the newspapers utilize?
One of the more prominent discussions within framing (and notably public relations) research is
the degree to which sources influence the messages and themes that are found in news stories,
especially if the sources are directly quoted. The pattern is clear: Sources are indeed able to influence
news stories, and they can become linked to certain frames. For example, Trumbo (1996) discovered
that on the issue of climate change: “scientists tend to be associated with frames emphasizing prob-
lems and causes, while politicians and special interests tend to be associated with frames emphasiz-
ing judgments and remedies” (p. 269). We must also note that sources are not always quoted
accurately or in context (Bell, 1994), but the kinds of sources represent an important element in
shaping coverage patterns.
We created our source categories based on the information provided by Trumbo (1996) and
McGeachy (1989). Trumbo referred to sources as “claims-makers” and identified the following: “uni-
versity scientists, government scientists, other scientists, Congresspersons, Presidential administra-
tions, ocials of other nations, environmental interest groups, and business and industry groups” (p.
272). McGeachy referenced nine classifications from Sandman (1986) and added two categories for
sources that were loosely similar to Trumbo (1996), with the possible exception of experts or authors
(we might include scientists here, but it could also be non-scientists—for example, media pundits),
ordinary citizens, unattributed or mixed, and historical figures; this included people who “were no
longer alive but whose writings or observations are referred to in the article as a source” (McGeachy,
1989, p. 8). Ultimately, we ended up with five categories in this study.
RQ4: Do the newspaper stories assess blame for climate change, and if so, who or what do they
blame?
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Understanding that the media are a product of the society in which they evolve, we are interested
in comparisons among the GCC nations’ newspapers in terms of the coverage of climate change. Do
the articles place blame on other countries, companies, or organizations or do they represent cli-
mate change as caused by mankind (i.e. Anthropocene epoch)?
2. Literature review
While there is no shortage of research concerning the topic of climate change media coverage in
North America and Europe, as well as Oceania, as mentioned, research into this topic and the media
located in the Middle East has not yet received a lot of attention. This is changing as more commu-
nication programs enter into the Arab world, and media researchers turn their eye to the region
(Khatib, 2014). However, given the copious amounts of writing overall on the subject, the previous
literature provides ample direction for this study. This study’s original contribution is to shed light on
coverage of the topic in the GCC countries’ newspapers, to allow for greater insights into how the
topic is being covered in these countries, and to make some preliminary observations and allow for
future comparisons. It joins a growing research body that has actively investigated newspaper cov-
erage of climate change (Dotson, Jacobson, Kaid, & Carlton, 2012; Lee & Chen, 2013; Liu, Vedlitz, &
Alston, 2008; Mercado, 2012).
What we know so far concerning climate change and specifically how the issue is typically being
dealt with in the media could fill several encyclopedias (in fact, see Robbins, 2007). The areas of re-
search relating to this are quite large so that even providing a cursory review is challenging and
certainly beyond the scope of any one study. There are, however, a number of studies that inform
the current paper and its narrow objective: to consider GCC newspaper coverage of climate change.
Several studies provided the insights as to which content categories, and other variables, would be
necessary to examine in order to uncover and document the nature of the coverage.
2.1. Framing research
The manner in which the topic of climate change is portrayed is largely based on the language used
in stories (Makwanya, 2010). The construction of a narrative in a news story is referred to as the
“frame” of a story. Framing research has a long tradition in the mass communications research and
still generates vibrant discussions as to its application and outcomes (for more see David, Atun, Fille,
& Monterola, 2011; Entman, 1993; Matthes, 2009; Scheufele, 1999). Media framing as an approach
has been utilized in examining environmental issues topics, from proposed nuclear reactors (Culley
& Angelique, 2010) to global warming (Olausson, 2009). It is relevant here because the way a story
“frames” an environmental issue is important on a number of levels (Nisbet, 2009). First, it can tell
us how a country or organization views the topic on a rudimentary level—based on the information
they release on the subject. Second, we can make guesses as to the importance based on the
amount of coverage that appears, or is allowed to appear, in the media. Finally, it may also inform
us about how the society feels about the issue—if there is feedback in the media channels—or again
if the coverage increases due to a perceived desire on behalf of the media audience to have more of
such coverage.
2.2. The GCC and climate change
The GCC was formed in May of 1981 in an eort to foster greater cooperation among its six member
countries: Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, The UAE, and Oman. In the process, this suprana-
tional organization has created a Gulf identity for its members distinct from the wider Arab world of
which it is also a part (Legrenzi, 2008). The GCC countries “are politically, economically, and geo-
graphically connected and … their economies are principally dependent on oil production for their
sustained economic prosperity … the oil sector accounts for 44 percent of the G.C.C. countries GDP
and 81 percent of total exports” (Osman, 2011, p. 33). Moreover, to some degree or another, these
largely rentier states have suggested a need to eventually wean their economies o of a reliance on
oil exports. Four of the countries (Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia) are members of Organization
of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which was founded in 1960. All of the countries are
also members of the Arab League, established in Cairo in 1945. Much has been written about the GCC
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and its member countries; for example, Ulrichsen wrote about how this supranational organization
is becoming more interested and active “in changing the balance of global power” (Coates Ulrichsen,
2011, p. 232). So it is fair to say that the GCC countries are looking to “punch above their weight
class” when it comes to world aairs.
Though we do not often hear of the impacts of climate change on the Gulf region in media reports,
there certainly are a number of problems that climate change is creating in the Gulf. We do more
frequently hear that the burning of fossil fuels directly contributes to global climate change. Thus,
these oil-producing countries, and the supranational organizations to which they belong, are usually
mentioned in world news reports and academic papers in relation to their oil-related activities and
the negative impact they have on the environment. The GCC is certainly aware of these realities
(both media and environmental) and has taken steps in recent years to address them—often
through a combination of policy initiatives (Pamell, 2012) and public relations eorts (Four GCC
countries, 2012).
Various other reports have indicated the concern of climate change impact on the Gulf. Luomi
(2012) has written the most comprehensive volume on the subject, stating that the “GCC states’
environment [is] under stress” (2013, p. 1). Not only regarding environmental damage, but also in
terms of the security issues raised (Detraz, 2011). Russell has written about security concerns in the
Gulf regarding climate change, stating for example, that “the baseline of renewable fresh-water
availability in today’s Gulf is already an environmental crisis” (Russell, 2009, p. 91). Evans wrote
about climate change in the Middle East indicating that the “combination of a stressed fresh water
resource and rapid population growth, substantially increases the vulnerability of the region to fu-
ture climate change” (Evans, 2009, p. 418).
Given the increased concern prompted by environmental issues, as well as the growing desire of
the GCC countries to engage on world issues, examining how their newspapers are treating the topic
of global climate change is of import.
2.3. Arab world journalism and the Gulf
Another area of note is the trade of journalism and how it is practiced in the Arab world and the Gulf
region. We know that individual media workers have an influence on media content as do the rou-
tines they learn to follow (Shoemaker & Reese, 1996). Here, we are fortunate to have several works
that provide crucial insight into the profession of journalism in the Arab world (Amin, 2002; Hussein,
2002; Mellor, 2009; Pintak & Ginges, 2008) and the Gulf (Duy, 2013, 2014). We know more about the
newspapers (Gonen, 2014) and even specifically the evolving approach to environmental news cov-
erage in the UAE (Reinisch, 2010), one of the GCC countries. Tolba and Saab (2009) have indicated
the lack of qualified environmental reporters in the Arab world’s newspapers, though this is certainly
true in other parts of the world and is not unique to the Arab world (see McIlwaine, 2013; Vestergård,
2011; Wilson, 2000). Reinisch indicated that “[g]enerally speaking, environmental and science re-
porting do not rank high among the editorial priorities and newsroom hierarchies across the Arab
world” (2010, n. p.). We must be careful in relating information collected in the Arab world to the
experiences of English-language newspapers in the Gulf region, as much may not directly translate.
However, many of the insights have considerable value and, absent other specific information, are
relevant to note and include.
Pejman (2009) has suggested that the English-language newspapers may have started out just
doing basic news coverage and re-reporting of government press releases; however, in more recent
years, the papers realize that they need to do better journalism in order to stay relevant in the mar-
ket. If this is so, then we might expect that climate change would receive fair and frequent coverage
as the years progress(ed).
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3. Method
The examination of newspaper content in mass communications research is one of the most promi-
nent techniques utilized in the field. Dozens of studies have been performed specifically looking at
the issue of climate change in print media (e.g. Debrett, 2011; Dotson et al., 2012; Good, 2008; Lee &
Chen, 2013; Mercado, 2012; Tillinghast & McCann, 2013; Young & Dugas, 2011). The written words of
newspapers are often readily available as they have typically been archived for many years—and so
researchers have access to these discrete issues of media information going back decades or longer.
While newspapers in the Gulf region are also being archived, it is not the case for all of the papers.
Many of the newspapers, and certainly this applies to the English-language ones, are relatively re-
cent endeavors, and even when they are being archived in some manner, it is still not a guarantee
that they will have instant, unfettered access via an online database. Thus, the decision as to which
newspapers would be included in the study was forced in a way, simply by noting which newspapers
were accessible.
To assess the nature of newspaper coverage of environmental issues, the study examined ten (10)
articles per year from six (6) newspapers, one from each of the GCC countries, over a five-year time
period, 2009–2013. This resulted in a total of 300 articles coded for analysis in answering the study’s
research questions. The newspaper articles were sampled by searching the Factiva and Lexis Nexus
databases using the keywords of “climate change” and “global warming”. Because the first research
question was interested in describing the overall coverage of the topic of climate change over the
five-year period, the number of non-repeated “hits” or results was used to determine one way to
begin to answer this research question, which is to say, overall how many articles were written con-
cerning the issue of climate change or global warming in these six newspapers. While the simple
number of stories does not provide tremendous insight into coverage in a detailed way—it does al-
low us to take a general snapshot of the aggregate numbers, again this is one way to start to answer
the first research question concerning the nature of coverage. It is worth to note that climate change
and global warming are not the same concepts, however, they are closely related, and in terms of
media coverage, these two keywords oer one plausible way to search for relevant articles, as oth-
ers have noted (Dotson et al., 2012).
Initially, a two constructed-week approach was attempted for the sampling of the newspapers.
This sampling method has received the most amount of attention with regard to similar analyses
involving newspaper content. For this study, however, due to the targeted nature and limited num-
ber of articles available in some years, the constructed-week sampling method would not have
worked. So it was decided that for each year, the most relevant articles (returned based on the key-
word searches) became those that were used for the coding. That is to say, the articles that were
ultimately selected represented the top ten with the largest percentage of relevance given the
search terms used. In this way, there was greater assurance that the articles being coded were de-
finitively dealing with the subject of climate change. In addition, it should be noted that the number
ten was also important because it represented the lowest number of relevant articles for one of the
newspapers in one of the years (Qatar’s Tribune). In this way, the number 10 was the minimum that
could be assured across all the papers for the years in question. Ideally, the two constructed-week
method should be employed; it is just that it would not have worked out for this study.
Using a manual coding scheme that has been successfully employed in previous research, news-
paper article text was examined and categorized based on several factors (mentioned in the previ-
ous chapter), for example, the number of stories and word counts, the main narrative news category
found in climate change articles, the specific environmental issue(s) addressed, the dominant frame
found within the story (i.e. problems to solutions), how many and what type of sources were used
(e.g. male or female; government, business or activist), whether or not solutions (i.e. individual or
society-based), or risks (i.e. mentioned, not mentioned, or stressed) were stated, and if blame (i.e.
none, nature, our country, another country) was attributed in the newspaper articles.
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Initially, the intercoder agreement was around 70% during the pilot test on articles that were
drawn from outside the years examined in the study (2007 and 2014). On the second go-round, the
agreement stood at 72%. After further discussion, and consultation with the literature, we revised
two of the categories (narrative news category and environmental category) where disagreement
often stemmed, and the agreement rate on the third round then rose to 90%. The coding then com-
menced on the studies sampled articles.
3.1. The sampled newspapers
One of the limitations of the study is the use of English-language newspapers; another is the specific
papers selected were those that were archived online. Their use is justified on the grounds that they
were available (not all papers are) and that English-language papers can still provide an insight into
the country’s thinking about certain topics. Freeman (2012) has written previously on the unique
characteristics of English-language papers in Southeast Asia, and many of the points are valid for
the current use of such papers. Among the points is that these papers oer a glimpse into how the
country’s leaders view a topic because many of the sources are likely to be from the government. In
a way, these papers may be considered similarly to international shortwave radio stations in the
past, in terms of their attempt to put their best foot forward for their neighbors. It is possible for an
individual writer to inject information into a story that may be on the borders of what might be
deemed acceptable by the authorities, whether intentional or not, that allows a media literate read-
er to gain more insight into a situation. This scenario is probably not common but certainly could
happen. As with other developing countries, the theme of nation-building and economic prosperity
are often used as explanation for why the government watches the press so closely (George, 2007),
and subsequently why the press comes to self-regulate as well.
There is not too much known about the English-language newspapers in the Gulf region, beyond
what one might guess—they hire those who can write in English, and this would mean that they
employ expats with experience likely brought from their home countries. Ostensibly, while these
professionals bring a lot of experience to their work, they are also likely cognizant of the working
environment in which they find themselves, and it would be unlikely that they would blatantly push
the boundaries of accepted local practices. In the country of the United Arab Emirates, the paper
selected was the Khaleej Times, Khaleej being the Arabic word for Gulf. This newspaper was founded
in 1978 and is considered to have the highest circulation for an English-language newspaper in the
Gulf. It has 180 employees, most of whom are of Indian and Pakistani origin. In Kuwait, The Kuwait
Times was selected. This paper was the first English-language paper in the Gulf region having
launched in 1961. It consists of roughly 36 pages for its daily edition. In Oman, The Times of Oman
was the paper examined. This paper has roughly 52 pages for its daily edition. In Bahrain the news-
paper selected was The Gulf Daily News, which was for a time the only English-language newspaper
in the country. According to the newspaper’s Web site, it targets the expat community of Americans,
British, Filipinos, Pakistanis, and Indians. The Qatar Tribune, with main oces in Doha, has its slogan
on its Web site: “First with the news and what’s behind it.” It operates both a print and e-paper and
is published by Qatar Information and Marketing (QIM). The Qatar Tribune was founded in 2006 and
claims a “readership of 15,000 issues daily” and “caters to the entire nation including locals and
expatriates who understand English” (LinkedIn, 2014). In Saudi Arabia, the Arab News was analyzed,
founded in 1975 as Saudi Arabia’s first English-language newspaper.
4. Results and findings
In attempting to answer research question one (RQ1), articles were coded according to word count,
providing an indication of how detailed the story would be, as well as placement into narrative news
categories, which give us an indication of how the overall story is treated. The specific environmental
category of the main topic of the story was also ascertained, so as to allow us to discover which
environmental topics are of most concern in the GCC countries as indicated by the coverage. On all
categories, intercoder agreement was above 80% (with numbers reported in the respective
sections).
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Figure 1 provides the first information gathered in the eort to answer the first research question,
which was purposely broad to examine how the issue of climate change has been covered in these
countries. The results of the keyword search give us an indication, and in looking at the figure, it can
be seen that the amount of coverage in the newspapers varies considerably. There are several items
worth noting when considering this figure. First, Qatar’s paper had the least number of stories con-
cerning climate change. There is a spike in stories in 2012, and the reason seems to be because there
was an “expert” on the topic at a local university who was sourced in the majority of the stories that
appeared. However, the eect seemed only to occur in a one-year period. Another noticeable change
is how Bahrain’s newspaper reduced coverage in the latter three years, while in the UAE, coverage
went up. Qatar’s paper had the least coverage, and Kuwait had the most during this five-year period.
Finally, it is fair to say that coverage has not been consistent in any of the six newspapers.
Related to answering RQ1 is the issue of the narrative news categories of the articles (Figure 2).
Here, we see two categories dominate, as many of the stories revolved around either science or edu-
cational aspects of climate change or on the other hand stories dealing with policies or international
relations as related to the issue. At first, the study employed several separate categories. However,
it was dicult to gain intercoder reliability (70% agreement). The categories had been suggested by
several previous research studies. Ultimately, however, we needed to combine the list into essen-
tially three main catch-all categories, with a miscellaneous fourth category. This allowed us to gain
better intercoder reliability (90% simple agreement; Scott’s Pi of .86); at the same time, there is still
enough distinction among the three remaining categories for the variable to have merit.
We also coded for the specific environmental category for the sampled news articles. Initially, and
again based on the literature, this study employed ten specific categories to catch the
environmental issues being written about in the stories. We coded for up to three environmental
Figure 1. Number of articles
dealing with the topic “climate
change”, 2009–2013.
Notes: The study examined one
English-language newspaper
from each of the six GCC
member countries. The search
for articles used the keyword
“climate change” in the Lexis-
Nexis and Factiva databases.
Figure 2. Narrative news
categories in the GCC
newspaper articles dealing with
the topic of climate change,
2009–2013.
Notes: N=300. Articles were
sampled from six newspapers
over a five-year period; search
term was “climate change”.
The narrative news categories
were created based on
previous research on news
coverage.
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issues in any given article, which created a problem for judging intercoder agreement. However, a
trend emerged during the coding process in that three categories dominated the rest among all six
newspapers: managing energy resources, land/resource conservation, and weather-related events
(Figure 3). Coding with these four categories led to greater agreement (95%).
The stories’ dominant frames are posted in Figure 4. Researchers have come up with dierent
classifications for frames, making it dicult to decide how best to classify the various discussions
and methods that have developed relating to climate change. Urry (2011), for example, suggested
that three discourses are most prevalent concerning climate change: skepticism, gradualism, and
catastrophism. For this study, we chose four a priori frames through which to analyze the stories:
problems, causes, judgments, and remedies (as suggested by Trumbo, 1996).
We also coded for solutions (if mentioned in the articles—Figure 5) as well as risk assessments
(Figure 6) in order to answer research question two (RQ2). Again, these aspects of climate change
coverage were suggested by previous research which has taken a look at these issues in relation to
media climate change coverage. The takeaway here is that causes are not likely to be mentioned in
the GCC newspaper articles. At the same time, there is a host of remedies or solutions discussed in
the articles. The majority of the solutions revolved around international treaties and national poli-
cies. Individuals and companies were rarely mentioned in terms of being part of the solution to the
issue.
On the issue of whom the newspapers go to when they are seeking quotes for their stories revolv-
ing around the topic of climate change, Figure 7 represents the sources who were called upon to
speak on the matter. This information speaks to research question three (RQ3). Trumbo found that
sources had an impact in how the readers perceived an issue, reporting that “[r]esults of the analysis
show that scientists tend to be associated with frames emphasizing problems and causes, while
Figure 3. Main environmental
categories found in GCC
newspaper coverage of climate
change, 2009–2013.
Notes: N=300. Ten articles
sampled for each of six GCC
newspaper, 2009 to 2013.
Articles were coded for main,
secondary, and tertiary topics.
**Air/water quality,
resource security and
conflict, population issues,
environmental additives,
wildlife conservation,
environmental movements,
agriculture and food issues.
Figure 4. Dominant frames
found in GCC newspaper
articles on the topic of climate
change, 2009–2013.
Notes: N=300. Articles were
discovered using search term
“climate change” in Lexis-Nexis
and Factiva databases for six
newspapers. A priori frames
were suggested by previous
research.
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Figure 5. Solution types
mentioned in GCC newspaper
articles dealing with climate
change, 2009–2013.
Notes: N=300. Articles were
coded according to five main
solution types as suggested
by previous research. Articles
were purposively sampled from
six GCC newspapers. Search
term “climate change”.
Figure 6. Risk assessment in
GCC newspaper coverage of
climate change, 2009–2013.
Notes: N=300. Articles were
purposively sampled from six
selected GCC English-language
newspapers during the years
2009 to 2013. Risk assessment
categories suggested by
previous research.
**This category also included
missing cases where coders
failed to make a coding
decision or where data entry
failed.
Figure 7. Number of articles
were a source was quoted, by
gender and type, 2009–2013.
Notes: N=300. Not all of the
articles had a source quoted.
Articles came from six GCC
newspapers. Search term was
“climate change”. Ten articles
were selected from each
newspaper over a five-year
time frame.
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politicians and special interests tend to be associated with frames emphasizing judgments and rem-
edies” (1996, p. 269). In the case of the GCC newspapers, scientists and researchers were the most
often cited sources in the articles, with government ocials in second place—and the majority of
sources were male.
Finally, when it comes to the issue of blame, how are the GCC newspapers indicating this, if at all?
This allows us to answer the final research question (RQ4). Figure 8 shows the results of the 300
sampled articles. There was a fairly even split between “Man” being to blame and the “Mixed or
Unclear” category. We further looked at this variable by asking in those cases where “Man” was
clearly indicated as being to blame for climate change—did the articles place specific blame on the
newspaper’s own country or elsewhere, or perhaps they indicated it was both their country and oth-
ers as well. The final Figure 9 of the study shows the breakdown from the coded articles. Here, we
saw that the articles tended to avoid placing blame on the newspaper’s operating country.
5. Discussion and conclusion
The way dierent newspapers present the same news can vary enormously depending upon the
paper in question. When we add to the mix the various countries and cultures and journalistic tradi-
tions, the dierences become noteworthy and oer insights into how each views and potentially
deals with environmental concerns. This study highlighted the nature of coverage of environmental
issues in the English-language newspapers of the GCC countries. Specifically, it looked at articles
dealing with the topic of “climate change” and that were dealing with the themes related to the
environment in their stories.
Figure 8. Blame treatment
variable in GCC newspaper
coverage of climate change,
2009–2013.
Notes: N=300. Articles were
selected using the search term
“climate change”. In each of
six newspapers over a five-
year time period, intercoder
reliability was equal to or
higher than 90% across all
variables coded.
Figure 9. Blame responsibility
variable in GCC newspaper
coverage of climate change,
2009–2013.
Notes: N=161. In this
case, 131 articles did not
mention which country was
responsible. Of the 161 that
did, 47 indicated “our country”
meaning the country of the
article’s origin; 77 said “other
countries”, and 37 suggested
that it was “both”.
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A number of items are of interest in terms of the findings in this study. First, contrary to what one
might think, the Gulf English-language newspapers do cover the issue of climate change—and not
from a skeptical or deniers standpoint, rather a gradualism-oriented frame. Although the extent to
which the topic is covered varies year to year and among the dierent newspapers (and countries), the
subject receives coverage; it is certainly not ignored. Second, as one might guess, the coverage deals a
lot with the management of energy resources, and resource conservation, while weather-related sto-
ries also figure into the coverage. The coverage indicates that the GCC countries are aware of the main
issues revolving around the topic of climate change. If we look at the narrative news categories, the
results are somewhat counter-intuitive. We might expect to find the issue of climate change being
discussed in articles that deal with the energy industry, but instead, we see climate change discussed
in less economic or business-related terms—and more in terms of political, social, and educational
perspectives. Oil and gas are essential to the GCC economies, but also contribute to climate change.
Coverage also tells us that these countries have a desire to diversify their economic portfolios and to
invest in alternative energy ideas. The newspaper stories also indicate that international treaties and
national policies are considered more important than companies’ policies or individual calls-to-action.
Regarding “sources”, both scientists and government ocials are often quoted in the GCC English-
language newspapers, and male sources outnumber female. Finally, “man” is indicated as contributing
to climate change in roughly half of the articles sampled. Further, the articles tend to push the blame
onto other countries as much as they indicate that the newspaper’s country or all countries are to
blame. This was one of the interesting takeaways; the newspapers acknowledge climate change and
the role that fossil fuel plays. However, it is mainly indicated that other countries are playing a larger
role in the creation of climate change—by buying and using these resources. It is certainly the case
that dierent countries have dierent reliance on various energy means—and some countries cer-
tainly use more than others. The GCC countries are tending to move toward a realization that the fossil
fuel industry will not always be as strong as it has been, and many stories talk about the GCC countries’
attempts to diversify their energy portfolios. There is a tacit implication that all countries should be
doing the same. Moreover, this comes through in the reporting on climate change in the GCC press.
There are a number of limitations which must be acknowledged. The use of English-language
newspapers is something that has been discussed previously. The reality is that the English lan-
guage has come into greater use in the GCC region. These newspapers, no doubt, tend to encode the
dominant preferred meanings in their text; however, there are also ample syndicated articles that
make it to print as well, as all news is a construction and gatekeepers are playing their role. We are
able to uncover some of the trends as to how the newspapers help to construct the news, informa-
tion, discussions, and debates which are acceptable in the public sphere within the societies in which
they publish. There are inherent limitations in selecting only English-language newspapers for re-
view. Other researchers have noted the dierences in the very nature of why these newspapers exist
and for whom the news is being written—and it often diers from the Arabic-language papers in the
same markets (Rugh, 2004). Be that as it may, it does not discount the importance and relevance of
studying these print media outlets. However, it should also be mentioned that we do need studies
examining the content of the Arabic-language press as well.
The study was, again, of a preliminary nature, meant to follow closely a previous study that looked
at English-language newspapers in the ASEAN region in Southeast Asia. Presented here are some
findings that will provide for interesting discussions and ideas for future research. The study’s con-
tribution is in bringing the Gulf media into the discussion of how media are treating the issue of cli-
mate change. The inclusion of the media analysis from supranational organizations should prove
useful in future climate change studies. Although we did not specifically code for Urry’s (2011) three
discursive categories, the feeling among the coders following the coding sessions was that the cov-
erage leaned toward “gradualism”—that is to say, the coverage seemed to place climate change in
a context of just another issue that is gradually occurring and that can be managed with the right
attention and proper policies. The media are covering the topics related to climate change and the
way they do so oer us insights into what the audience has available to them, and perhaps how we
can move forward in understanding and to act in the best interests of the planet.
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Acknowledgement
The author wishes to thank Joudy Fawaz and Tarini Pahwa
who acted as research assistants and coders on this project.
Funding
The author declares no direct funding for this research.
Author details
Bradley C. Freeman
1
E-mail: bfreeman@aud.edu
1
Mohammed Bin Rashid School for Communication, American
University in Dubai, Al Asad Street, Media City, Dubai, United
Arab Emirates.
Citation information
Cite this article as: Protecting the Gulf: Climate change
coverage in GCC print media, Bradley C. Freeman, Cogent
Arts & Humanities(2016), 3: 1212690.
Cover image:
Source: Author.
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... Qatar AND "climate change" 69 27 Ahmadi et al. [120]; Ahmed and Nasrabadi [121]; Al Mamoon et al. [122]; Al Mamoon and Rahman [123]; Al-Ansari et al. [124]; AlSarmi and Washington [125]; AlSarmi and Washington [126]; Alsheyab [127]; Cheng et al. [128]; Doukas et al. [129]; El Shaer [72]; Freeman [130]; ...
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