The Representation of Environmental News: A Comparative Study of the Malaysian and New Zealand Press
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This comparative study examines trends in the representation of the environment in Malaysian and New Zealand newspapers over an eight year period. By comparing the two media contexts, it explored the role of journalism’s occupational norms, of the relationship between journalists and sources and of media ownership in determining the quality of news coverage of the environment. The sample was made up of eight mainstream newspapers which were selected based on biggest circulation figures, sampled in 1996, 2000 and 2004. The four Malaysian newspapers, all nationally distributed, were the English-language papers The New Straits Times and The Star, and the Malay-language papers Berita Harian and Utusan Malaysia. The four New Zealand newspapers, all regionally distributed, were The Press, The Dominion Post, The New Zealand Herald and The Otago Daily Times. The study employed content analysis as the prime method to observe trends in environmental news; while in-depth interviews with 40 respondents were used to verify from subjects’ experiences the various forces that might cause the trends. Major content analysis findings were that environmental news is underrepresented in both countries and that the news patterns in the two countries are quite similar. The study raised questions about the quality of the news, with much of the coverage being conflict-framed, one-source event stories, with high dependency on government officials. These problems were less acute in New Zealand. Trends were largely stable across the three years. The most significant change in Malaysian coverage was an increase in the use of the public and scientists as sources over time. Interviews revealed some differences between New Zealand and Malaysia in journalists’ awareness of organizational determinants of news, editorial policies towards the environment, sources criticisms of journalists’ laziness, but also many common problems, including journalists’ lack of knowledge about environmental issues and science. In Malaysia, government control of the news and editors’ self-censorship of sensitive news was identified as a problem. The study concludes that newspapers in both countries do not operate as information providers or educators, but most of the time are reactive towards environmental issues.