Politics triumphs: A topic modeling approach for analyzing news media coverage of climate change in Pakistan

Abstract: 

News media is one of the main sources of information for many people around the world on climate change. It not only increases awareness among the public but also has the potential to sensitize people toward climate change impacts. To date, few studies focus on media coverage of climate change in low-income countries such as Pakistan which is among the top ten countries impacted by global warming. This study used Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) topic modeling and analyzed 7,655 climate change-related news articles published between 2010 and 2021 in three Pakistani English newspapers. Our results suggest that climate change coverage in Pakistan has substantially increased over the years, however, the focus has generally been on “climate politics,” “climate governance and policy,” and “climate change and society.” Evolution of the different themes and their potential impacts on people are discussed.

Received: 

5 July 2022

Accepted: 

10 October 2022

Published: 

11 January 2023

1 Introduction

Among many challenges faced by humanity today, climate change is one that has been termed as an existential threat to human civilization [IPCC, 2022]. Unequivocal scientific consensus has warned of unprecedented consequences to our modern way of life if we do not change and adapt to the climate crisis [van der Linden, Leiserowitz, Feinberg & Maibach, 2015], which sets to impact the least developed countries far more than the developed ones [IPCC, 2022]. For example, the recent ‘super-flood’ in Pakistan is one such example of the unprecedented impact of climate change that has killed over 1400 people while submerging a third of the country and displacing 32 million citizens [Bokhari & Reed, 2022]. In other parts of the world, during the first half of 2022, we have already seen record-breaking heatwaves followed by drought in Europe, hurricanes in Japan, and a historic 500-year flood in Montana [Marwan, 2022], all of which show the enormity of the challenge and efforts required in preparing people to adapt for the climate crises.

However, in the wake of the looming crisis and the challenge of making people aware of it, news media plays a vital role because the adaptation at the global scale is always contingent upon mass cognition and respective information [Moser, 2010]. Past research informs us that increasing levels of news media attention to climate change increases public concern about the issue [Sampei & Aoyagi-Usui, 2009]. Additionally, the news media coverage of climate change also influences public discourses [Carvalho, 2007] and also people’s behavioral intentions on the issue [Arlt, Hoppe & Wolling, 2011]. However, this public concern and awareness are not equal across different regions because we do not have enough empirical evidence and information on news media coverage in low-income countries and its impact on consumers. The meta-analysis by Schäfer and Schlichting [2014] confirms a lack of scholarly attention on climate change communication from low-income countries. A recent study conducted by Mattar, Jafry, Schröder and Ahmad [2021] further recognized that “the poorest and most vulnerable, particularly from the Global South, have been historically under-represented within debates on mitigation, adaptation and resilience-building to climate change” [p. 2], thus impeding our understanding toward how media shapes the climate change-related narrative in such countries.

Notwithstanding the general paucity of climate change communication research originating from the Global South, some specific progress has been made [e.g., Hase, Mahl, Schäfer & Keller, 2021; Keller, Hase, Thaker, Mahl & Schäfer, 2020; Newman, Fletcher, Robertson, Eddy & Nielsen, 2022]. However, Pakistan, a fifth most populous country that is ranked among top ten most vulnerable to climate change [Eckstein, Künzel, Schäfer & Winges, 2019; Ejaz, Ittefaq & Arif, 2022; Kamboh, Ittefaq & Yousaf, 2022] has seldom been part of such empirical studies that examine news media coverage of climate change [Schäfer & Schlichting, 2014], thus highlighting a research gap. To fill this void, specifically concerning Pakistan, two recent studies understanding climate journalism found that journalists in the country face numerous challenges [Sharif & Medvecky, 2018], including missing relevant educational background, lack of support from the newsroom, and pushback from corporations which in turn significantly influence their coverage of the issue [Ejaz et al., 2022].

The above-mentioned studies, however important, emphasized just the role journalists play in climate change-related discourse but not the coverage itself. Hence, responding to the call for more research from low-income countries and underscoring the importance of media content, this study aims to focus on climate change-related news coverage in Pakistan’s three largest English newspapers, The News, Express Tribune, and Dawn. By using an automated content analysis method, we analyzed climate change-related stories published between 2010 and 2021. In terms of scholarly contribution, this exploratory study is aimed to add to our understanding regarding (a) the frequency of climate change news stories, (b) the prevalence of overarching themes in the reporting, and (c) the evolution of coverage of main themes over the years.

2 Literature review

2.1 Media coverage of climate change

Many climate scientists agree that climate change is a global problem that has a substantial chance of having catastrophic environmental, social, emotional, and economic effects during this century [Reid, 2019]. Consequently, the problem of climate change and its potential risks to humankind have evidently gained media’s attention in many parts of the world, particularly over the last two decades [Schmidt, Ivanova & Schäfer, 2013]. The vital role performed by the media is not surprising, as it is still the major source of information for the public on a range of different issues, including climate change [Newman, Fletcher, Schulz, And i & Nielsen, 2020].

Hence, this importance of media naturally garnered ample scholarly attention giving rise to diverse empirical studies examining news coverage in various contexts. Several studies — predominantly based on countries in the Global North and some from the South — have tried to scrutinize media coverage by focusing on a single or comparing a few countries, and in this paper, we particularly want to include more work from countries that are usually less represented in the literature.

For example, looking at media framing in newspapers from Turkey and Nigeria, Günay, İşeri, Ersoy and Elega [2021] found significant variations in the media coverage of two countries, i.e., Nigerian papers tend to focus more on adaptation, whereas Turkish news stories are evenly distributed between adaptation and mitigation. Similarly, Naguimbing-Manlulu [2021] studied climate change narratives in the Philippines’ print media. The findings suggest that newspapers framed the climate change narrative around the themes such as international cooperation, the government’s opposition to climate change effects, and demanding climate justice. Furthermore, Lück, Wessler, Wozniak and Lycarião [2018, p. 1645], in their comparative study, found that media in Brazil frames climate change as a “hopeful struggle”, signifying the urgency of the situation while instilling hope, however in the U.S., India, Germany, and South Africa, media predominantly covers climate change in an “ongoing conflict” frame.

A recent study conducted by Hase and colleagues [2021] analyzing 71,674 news articles related to climate change published in 10 Global South and North countries found that the Global North countries publish more climate-related stories with a focus on the societal dimension of the crisis. However, the media in Global South countries is more prone to highlighting climate change impacts on humans. Following a similar approach, Keller et al. [2020] used topic modeling to examine 18,224 articles published from 1997 to 2016 in leading Indian newspapers and found significant increase of climate coverage with extensive focus on the impacts of climate change. Moreover, many other studies, based on the Global North countries, suggest that media reporting has shifted toward covering more scientific consensus [Gibson, Craig, Harper & Alpert, 2016; Grundmann & Scott, 2014; Matthews, 2017] and decrease in adopting alarming descriptions [Ruiu, 2021] which was found to prove counterproductive for individual engagement [O’Neill & Nicholson-Cole, 2009].

Notwithstanding the growing literature on the subject, Pakistan, a country at fore to negative climate change consequences, remains absent from such empirical investigations, rendering us unaware of how its media cover climate change. Therefore, in this study, we aim to provide, as per our knowledge, the first empirical evidence of exploring climate change coverage from 2010–2021 in three leading newspapers of Pakistan.

2.2 Pakistan, climate change, and media

Pakistan is the fifth largest country in the world in terms of population. The country’s Human Development Index value for 2019 is 0.557 — which puts Pakistan in the medium HDI category — positioning it at 154 out of 189 countries and territories [United Nations Development Programme, 2020]. A recent report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows that Pakistan is not among the world’s top ten countries in terms of greenhouse gas emissions [IEA, 2019]. However, Pakistan is among the top ten countries which are suffering from climate change [Eckstein et al., 2019]. Pakistan is burdened by climate change in two ways: first, the country has been facing acute climate change-induced extreme weather events such as heatwaves [Saifi & Yeung, 2018], glacial meltdown induced flooding, and expansive smog [Ali, 2021], all of which is projected to increase in intensity and magnitude in the future. Second, climate change is constraining Pakistan’s economic growth by negatively impacting energy access and energy security and threatens to restrict Pakistan’s national development goals, such as reducing poverty, improving public health, controlling air pollution, and providing clean water [Ali, 2021].

Prior research suggests that prolonged exposure to hazardous air causes varied health complications, including asthma, lung damage, bronchial infections, strokes, heart problems, and shortened life expectancy [Ali, 2021]. A recent report by the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution [2019] estimated that 128,000 Pakistanis die annually due to pollution-related illnesses. In addition to pollution, climate change-induced floods have also created havoc in Pakistan. A recent study on “super floods” in Pakistan shows that climate change likely increased extreme monsoon rainfall and submerged a third of the country while impacting more than 32 million people [Otto et al., 2022].

Hence, the extreme vulnerability and dire consequences of climate change has designated it a key issue in Pakistan after evading policymaker’s attention for a long time. However, it changed when the previous Prime Minister, Imran Khan, started campaigning and advocating for actions to mitigate climate change. He started Pakistan’s Ten Billion Tree Tsunami project which is supported by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and aimed to plant 10 billion trees by 2023. The project was launched in 2019 and recently reached a milestone — planting of the billionth tree [United Nations Environment Programme, 2021]. Furthermore, the administration took several other policy decisions to reduce air pollution, focus on renewable energy generation, and build water reservoirs, all of which are important steps required to be adequately communicated to masses.

To consider the sufficient coverage of climate-related issues as a yardstick, Schmidt et al. [2013] analyzed media content published between 1996 and 2010 from 27 countries and found that the newspapers of selected low-income countries such as Algeria, Yemen, Jordan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, and Thailand, just gave 0.36%, 0.07%, 0.07%, 1.64%, 1.15%, 0.39%, and 1.85% coverage to climate change. In contrast, newspapers in Australia, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States gave 15.40%, 5.66%, 8.39%, 14.74%, and 11.02% coverage to climate change. In another study, Barkemeyer et al. [2017] examined 41 countries media coverage of climate change in 2008 and found that selected Chinese, Nepali, Filipino, Thai, and Pakistani newspapers scarcely published an average number of 1.01, 0.31, 0.20, 0.54 and 0.16 articles per newspaper issue on climate change. Similarly, Hase et al. [2021] analyzed the climate coverage from 2006–18 in ten different countries and found most of them in the Global South publish less than half a percent of news related to climate change. Consequently, the previous studies do not answer how much climate coverage is enough, but the literature shows that low-income countries like Pakistan tend to have less coverage of climate change issues.

With regards to Pakistan, numerous studies have tried to document the challenges [Sharif & Medvecky, 2018] and risks of climate journalists [Volkmer & Sharif, 2018]. However, we have not come across any study that has tried to investigate the quantity, themes, and evolution of climate change news coverage. Nonetheless, the previous studies that are concerned with Pakistan and climate change news coverage show that environmental reporters face various levels of influence, i.e., lack of incentives, resource-intensive nature of climate reporting, and pressure to self-censor from corporations while investigating their climate degradations practices, which significantly shape their climate stories [Ejaz et al., 2022]. Apart from news stories, some scholars have also examined editorial coverage of environmental issues. For instance, Kamboh and colleagues examined editorial journalism and environmental issues in the majority world (i.e., Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and China) suggested that editorialists in these countries failed to perform their normative role when it comes to linking environmental issues with the pandemic. The study further suggested that civic advocacy groups should help in building news media capacity to cover climate change issues amid a global health crisis such as COVID-19 [Kamboh et al., 2022]. Furthermore, Hussain, Khan and Zubair Iqbal [2022] found that reporters believe that climate is not considered a newsworthy event in Pakistan compared to other issues such as politics, consequently preventing them and media organizations to invest their resources on its coverage.

Despite the importance of the said studies, we believe that the non-existence of research on the media coverage itself shows a gap in the literature which hampers our understanding concerning the frequency of climate-related news stories in Pakistani media, key topics that received more attention, and how its coverage of the issue has evolved over the years. Hence, our explorative study is an attempt to answer these important questions while adding to the existing literature on the role of media in covering climate change. Thus, the present study is guided by the following research questions:

  • How frequently Pakistani newspapers covered climate change from 2010 to 2021?

  • Which themes and topics are prevalent in Pakistani news media coverage of climate change?

  • How did the climate news coverage classified in main themes evolve between 2010 and 2021?

3 Method

To answer our research questions, we first examined the frequency of climate-related news coverage in three English-language newspapers from 2010–2021. Then, we look at the climate news coverage over the years to find the main themes and topics through topic modeling with Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) method [Blei, Ng & Jordan, 2003]. In the following, we describe various steps to obtain the final data which comprised 7,655 newspaper articles.

3.1 Sample

We chose three-largest circulated Pakistani English language newspapers, The Express Tribune, Dawn, and The News. Since English is commonly spoken and read among the elite including policy makers, therefore, the selected newspapers play a pivotal role in national politics and discourse. Further, these newspapers influence policy making processes related to climate change in the country. We used the NexisUni database to collect data by using various key terms which have been used in previous studies [see Schmidt et al., 2013], including “climate change” OR “global warming” OR “environment”. The search resulted in a total 12,138 — Dawn =4,288; The News =4,813; and The Express Tribune =3,037.

3.2 Pre-processing

After downloading the data, we removed duplicates from the dataset. Next, we used the LexisNexis Tools R package to calculate the similarity index [Gruber, 2021]. The package checks the similarity by calculating the index using two distinct methods, (a) text similarity, which compares the word similarity of two given texts [Benoit et al., 2018], and (b) Levenshtein distance, which measures the difference between two string sequences [Gruber, 2021]. Upon computing the similarity index, we removed all those articles above the suggested 20% cut-off value. This step helped us to remove 842 articles leaving us with 11,296 unique articles. In addition, the dataset offered by NexisUni usually contains tags categorizing each article. These tags indicate the prevalence (in terms of percentage) of certain content/theme in the article. In order to include only those articles that are related to climate coverage, we removed all those articles from the corpus which did not have “climate change”, “environment”, and “global warming” tags and appeared in search results merely because of the presence of any of our search terms. Then, we calculated the average relevance of each article based on the individual percentage — provided by the NexisUni — of the three tags. Lastly, after the manual scrutinizing the data, a discussion between co-authors, and the desire to only retain highly relevant articles in the final corpus, we decided to remove all those articles from the dataset with a relevance score of less than 50%, yielding a final dataset of 7,655 news articles across three newspapers.

3.3 LDA topic modeling

Topic modeling is an unsupervised machine learning method of textual analysis that allows researchers to find patterns in large datasets. It reduces the complexity of language to a simplistic assumption, namely that certain words often occur together, and these co-occurrences — word clusters — carry traces of meaning [Ylä-Anttila, Eranti & Kukkonen, 2022]. These topics are clusters of words that co-occur across documents according to certain patterns [Jacobi, van Atteveldt & Welbers, 2016] inferred by ignoring the order of words according to a “bag-of-words” assumption [Keller et al., 2020]. By observing patterns and variations in the usage of these word clusters, we observed variations in meaning-making habits. This makes topic modeling suitable for discovering patterns in large datasets, and therefore also used in this study.

3.4 Selecting k

As an unsupervised machine learning method, LDA, in addition to the data itself, requires only the number of topics that the algorithm should churn out. The selection of topics is an important step as it determines the model fitness [Hase et al., 2021] because selecting too many topics results in topics that are too specific, whereas choosing fewer topics forces an algorithm to mix many topics into one. Therefore, to find the best k, we tested models of 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, 100, 110 and 120 topics using the package “topicmodels” [Grün & Hornik, 2011] in R [“R Core Team”, 2020] after processing our corpus using the package “stm” [Roberts, Stewart & Tingley, 2019]. After analyzing each output (top terms and correlations between different topics) and assessing different model fit indices, i.e., semantic coherence, exclusivity, and held-out likelihood, we ended up with a model of 50 topics.

4 Results

4.1 Frequency of climate change news (RQ1)

In the last ten years, climate change news coverage in Pakistan has substantially increased (see Figure 1).


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Figure 1. Monthly frequency of climate change media coverage from 2010–2021 (N=7,655).

The issue of climate change has transitioned from absolutely receiving no coverage to appearing a minimum of 58 and a maximum of 146 times per month at an aggregate-level across three newspapers. Furthermore, Figure 1 clearly shows that each newspaper has started covering climate change at different time. Among the three papers, The News, though began publishing on climate change as late as 2014 but still has paid substantially more attention to the issue than the other papers, consequently representing 40% of total articles published on climate change from 2010–2021.

The results also indicates that the frequency of publishing climate change-related news coverage shares a similar trend across all three newspapers. The result of the present study corroborates Schmidt et al. [2013] who reported considerable ups and downs across 27 countries (excluding Pakistan) and contrasts from Keller et al. [2020] who found Indian media increases its coverage of the issue around important Conference of Parties (COP) meetings.

4.2 Identifiable prevalent themes and topics (RQ2)

Results of topic modeling offered 50 different topics within the article corpus. Table 1 illustrates the main themes and sub-topics along with the top five key terms. It also shows the occurrence of each sub-topic and its prevalence across the complete corpus. According to the results, the terms in each topic show a significant range of themes within the corpus, consequently highlighting the diversity in climate change reporting in Pakistani newspapers. Among the sub-topics, the analysis shows that coverage of the Paris Agreement (10.97%), Adaptation Policy (4.66%) measures, and education on the Reality of Climate Change (3.94%) remained dominant.


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Table 1. Main themes and topics of climate change media coverage in Pakistan (N=7,655).

Upon calculating the model for the complete corpus, we relied on human validation to classify 50 different sub-topics into six overarching themes without removing any topics designating them as background topics [Maier et al., 2018]. These six predominant themes include: “Climate Politics”, “Climate Governance and Policy”, “Climate Change and Society”, “Climate Change Impacts”, “Climate Science”, and “Climate Solution”. Some of these themes appear similar to Keller et al. [2020] who investigated coverage of Indian newspapers on climate change.

Figure 2 illustrates that among these overarching themes, “Climate Politics” was the most prevalent topic (26.4%) which is comprised of ten different sub-topics. Within this theme, the issue of Paris Agreement with a prevalence of 10.97% and Climate Project Funding (2.67%) were extensively discussed. Besides these two sub-topics, most other coverage deals with various Domestic Politicians (2.02%), Regional Summits (1.56%) and Politics (1.81%), and Foreign Actors (1.67%). For example, the articles that are classified as Foreign Actors runs with the headlines such as, “Climate change in focus as royal couple visits Chitral”.


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Figure 2. Percentage of coverage by main themes.

The second most dominant theme in the Pakistani news coverage is labelled as “Climate Governance and Policy”. It includes fourteen different sub-themes that collectively constitute a quarter (25.4%) of print media coverage in Pakistan. Within this theme, Adaptation Policy (4.6%) and Water Scarcity (3.3%) are two most prevalent sub-themes. The coverage related to Adaptation Policy deals with the media reporting on policies related to sustainable development and growth to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change. Additionally, the previous government in the last three years has paid significantly more attention to address issues related to climate change and accordingly took several administrative steps and policy initiatives. Thus, continuously providing media a lot to report on that contribute as sub-topics within this theme, related to implementing Plastic Ban (1.42%) on single-use shopping bags, designating numerous areas as Conservation (1.51%) habitat, and empowering Local Administration (1.88%) to enforce climate change-related policies. As for the coverage classified as Water Scarcity, the dominance of the topic makes sense because Pakistan is constantly ranked among those countries where ground water-level is continuously decreasing making it transition from water “stressed” to “scarce” country [Parry, Terton, Osman, Ledwell & Asad, 2016].

In terms of prevalence, “Climate Change and Society” is the third (21.7%) overarching theme which is comprised of eleven sub-topics, including, Tree Plantation (3.00%), Public Awareness (2.40%), Climate Conference (1.62%), Air Quality (2.14%), Climate and Gender (1.29%). Newspaper articles related to this theme has a wide scope and includes news stories with a human angle along with covering various societal actions to mitigate climate change as well as highlighting pervasive environmental degradation in different contexts. For example, the most prominent sub-topic corresponding to this theme and across all other topics Tree Plantation (3.00%) discuss various nation-wide campaigns initiated by different stakeholders including the government, NGOs, and private sector. The coverage in the topic also pertains a very important issue of unequal impact of climate change across gender while highlighting how women are at the forefront of facing the direct consequences of the crisis [Halton, 2018] especially, in the rural areas where their rights are seldom guaranteed. Besides, some articles corresponding to this theme also cover the awareness and informational efforts on different interest groups by organizing events and publishing media stories on the subject. In contrast, to show humans as victims of climate change, a small portion of media coverage in this theme includes stories presenting how they are also causing harm to their ecology by using hazardous chemicals and not adopting effective sanitation techniques, thus endangering the public health, and spread of different diseases.

The fourth overarching theme “Climate Change Impacts” that constitutes (14.05%) of the total climate coverage comprised of nine sub-topics (see, Table 1). The three most dominant sub-topics within this theme are Monsoon rainfall (2.44%), Rising temperature (2.36%), and Agriculture (1.81%). Pakistan is a semi-industrialized country and almost quarter of its economy is linked with agriculture [FAO, 2022], therefore, it makes sense for the media to focus on the impacts of climate change specifically on agricultural output of the country. However, the impacts of climate change are diverse and not limited to just one sector, and this is reflected by the media coverage who reports on issues like Drought (1.31%), Marine life (1.20%), Melting glaciers (1.52%), and degradation of Coastal (1.33%) communities.

The fifth theme, “Climate Science” represents 7.13% of the total coverage of climate change and consists of three topics. The most prominent among them concerns with educating the readers about the Reality of climate change (3.94%) while also reporting on what are different scientific solutions available for humans to adapt and prepare for any eventuality. For example, stories classified under this sub-theme contain headlines like “Climate change a future development and economic challenge” or “Roadmap for decarbonization”. Lastly, three sub-topics constitute the overarching theme Climate Solution (5.21%). Among them, Sustainable farming (2.20%) is the most prevalent and consists of news articles that discuss the need to transform farming from traditional to sustainable. Furthermore, the coverage informs the public of new policy initiatives taken by the government to promote the use of Renewable (1.65%) energy sources and use of Quality fuel (1.34%).

4.3 Occurrence of overarching themes in news media coverage between 2010–21 (RQ3)

To examine the development and variations in the news media coverage related to climate change, we calculated the sum of the total occurrences of each theme in a single year. Figure 3 illustrates the prevalence of each topic in a single year as well as between 2010 and 2021. Like the answer of RQ1, we can see that the news coverage of climate change in Pakistan has increased over time. Figure 3 shows that between 2010–15, the coverage was mostly dominated by the theme “Climate Politics”, however, the prevalence of this theme has gradually decreased. In contrast, “Climate Governance and Policy” has gained dominance, indicating growing shift on the administrative and policy measures to mitigate climate change.


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Figure 3. Prevalence and variations of main themes across time.

Additionally, Figure 3 shows that over time the theme “Climate Change and Society” has also increasingly become part of the news coverage. However, it is worth noticing that Pakistan’s news media has not included stories that pertain to “Climate Change Impacts” despite the country being one of the most vulnerable to adverse impacts of climate change. Moreover, the consistently low dominance of news stories related to “Climate Science” and “Climate Solution” has not changed throughout the observed timeframe, which indicates the focus of media coverage.

5 Discussion

The current study exploratively examine the climate change-related news media coverage in the three leading English newspapers of Pakistan. To the best of our knowledge, the present study is the first of its kind originating from Pakistan that examines a large corpus of climate change-related media coverage published between 2010–2021. The results indicate that Pakistani print media has gone from not covering climate change-related stories to including at least two of such stories per day, which show substantial uptake of climate journalism. However, considering the scale of the issue, its impact on Pakistan, and compared to other countries, the media still pays less attention to the topic. An estimate — shared by the editors of each newspaper in this sample — informs us that three newspapers publish approx. 900–1020 news stories daily. Hence, the average coverage related to climate change news is 0.2%, which is below compared to other countries of the world [Schmidt et al., 2013; Hase et al., 2021], including the region, for example, India, whose climate coverage is 0.33% [Keller et al., 2020]. Therefore, based on our findings, we recommend the media to consider the importance of climate change and focus more on the impending crisis to inform the public and policymakers with continuous calls for action.

With regards to content published in different Pakistani newspapers, the study found 50 topics that were further classified into (1) Climate Politics, (2) Climate Governance and Policy, (3) Climate Change and Society, (4) Climate Change Impacts, (5) Climate Science, and (6) Climate Solution. The findings presented in this study indicate the diversity of topics with which Pakistan print media covers the issue of climate change. However, the coverage itself is more focused on covering issues pertaining to politics, including highlighting project fundings, statements by domestic and international politicians on the issue, and international agreements. These findings contradict other studies [Hase et al., 2021; Olausson, 2014] that have reported the increasing tendency of media to domesticate the issue of climate change by highlighting its impact on different communities. One reason for this variation, as per the country’s commitment to Paris Agreement, could be its insistence on implementing climate-related policies only if it can secure international grants, which amount to approximately $40 billion [Chaudhry, 2017]. Accordingly, the news media also covers such political statements regarding funds, initiating new projects, and seeking more grants from foreign actors.

Besides covering politics, Pakistani media also report on how different governance and policy-related matters either exacerbate or mitigate the adverse effects of climate change. Such coverage is often linked to the government’s adaptation policies and promotes the need to focus on conservation, sustainability, and pro-environmental infrastructure development.

The past research informs that the inclusion of human element is critical in effective climate change communication [Maibach, Nisbet & Weathers, 2011]. Accordingly, Pakistani media substantially include this angle in its coverage labelled as “Climate Change and Society”, where people get to tell their first-hand accounts of dealing with the harmful effects of environmental degradation, various awareness campaigns, and different private public partnerships on pro-environment initiatives. The study shows that Pakistani print media also covers “Climate Science”. However, the percentage of this theme are relatively low, which corresponds to the previous work of Nguyen and Tran [Nguyen & Tran, 2019] that finds a lack of interest among the Global South journalists in covering scientific topics. The results of this study highlight a similar trend for the coverage related to “Climate Solution”. The dismally low and less diverse media coverage on science and solution aspects of climate change needs more attention from the media in Pakistan, both of which have been found to be critical for effective climate change communication [Howarth, Parsons & Thew, 2020; McAllister et al., 2021].

Despite the importance of this explorative study, it still has several limitations. First, the newspapers selected for this study, despite having a significant readership, were in the English language, whereas the native language of Pakistan is Urdu. Thus, not considering the widely spoken language limits the generalizability of the findings of this study. Secondly, the machine learning based technique of topic assignment to individual newspaper article needs to be considered with caution. Although, we have been rigorous in choosing the highly relevant articles, but it is almost unlikely a newspaper article is solely based on one single topic. Third, the classification of topics to broad themes was done manually by the authors based on lengthy deliberations and their knowledge of local dynamics, however, this subjective categorization may not garner broad consensus.

Notwithstanding the limitations, our first of its kind study originating from Pakistan offers some pertinent insights into how the country’s print media has covered climate change between 2010–21. The growth in covering the issue across different newspapers is a healthy sign, nevertheless, the low average of daily coverage points toward that media in Pakistan is a long way from making climate change reporting mainstream. Furthermore, it is valuable that the climate change news coverage in Pakistan consists of diverse topics, however excessive emphasis on politics and governance aspects of climate change does little to make people aware of adaptation and mitigation actions that become useful, especially with the increased frequency of climate change-induced extreme weather events. Therefore, the news coverage should include more stories related to climate solutions.

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Authors

Waqas Ejaz is an assistant professor at National University of Science and Technology, Islamabad, Pakistan. Currently, he is Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the Oxford Climate Journalism Network. He earned his Ph.D. at the Technical University of Ilmenau, Germany. His research interests include studying digital media effects, climate change, political, and computational communication.
@waqasejazch E-mail: waqas.ejaz@politics.ox.ac.uk.

Muhammad Ittefaq is an assistant professor in the School of Communication Studies at James Madison University, United States. He earned his Ph.D. from University of Kansas, United States. His research interests include studying climate change communication, health communication, misinformation, emerging technologies, vaccines, and science communication.
@IttefaqM E-mail: ittefaqmuhammad1@gmail.com.

Sadia Jamil is an Assistant Professor in the School of International Communications at University of Nottingham Ningbo, China. She received her Ph.D. in Journalism at the University of Queensland, Australia. Her research interests include digital journalism, Global South, and sustainable development.
@SadiaJa67121557 E-mail: sadia.jamil@ymail.com.

How to cite

Ejaz, W., Ittefaq, M. and Jamil, S. (2023). ‘Politics triumphs: A topic modeling approach for analyzing news media coverage of climate change in Pakistan’. JCOM 22 (01), A02. https://doi.org/10.22323/2.22010202.