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Opinion: Re-thinking the TV weather report

Opinion: Re-thinking the TV weather report

By Jeremy Williams

“We couldn’t keep doing the weather as it’s always been done,” says Alexandre Kara of France Télévisions. “It’s unacceptable to rejoice that it’s 25 degrees in Biarritz in February without explaining why.”

With these sorts of concerns in mind, the weather updates on France 2 and 3 are getting a tweak. They’re being renamed as weather and climate updates, and extended by 90 seconds to accommodate more explanations. The plan is to explain the weather as well as present it. Current weather will be set in a historic context, with space to answer questions sent in by viewers.

It’s a small thing, especially if you don’t watch French TV news – but it’s symbolic of how news is changing in an age of climate disruption. All news now unfolds in the broader context of climate change. That doesn’t make every story a climate story and it doesn’t need to be repeated ad nauseam, but it should be incorporated more.

For a start, weather in a changing climate is more complicated, so it’s fair to give it a bit more time. It also needs more perspective. Kara is absolutely right about how some kinds of weather are celebrated, or reported in a chirpy tone, when there’s really very little to celebrate. I’ve written about this with heat waves. Last year the MET office issued its first-ever extreme heat warning, which the papers insisted on reporting with giddy delight. They had changed their tone by the end of the week, with ‘hell on earth’ headlines as wildfires burned and roads melted. So it isn’t just a matter of being on message with climate change, but honestly reflecting reality.

Other changes in TV journalism include Sky’s Daily Climate Show, though they’re missing a trick by not consistently getting it online. Or the notable time, ten years ago now, that Australian weather reports had to add new colours to the temperature charts. In the newspaper world, the most significant and purposeful change has been from the Guardian, which has made specific commitments on the climate: report it, reduce their own emissions, and stop taking advertising money from fossil fuels.

Climate change will prompt new thinking in a lot of professions, throwing up new challenges or needing some kind of response. Journalism is one of the most important professions to take it seriously because it sets the tone for so much public debate. How well the media reports on climate change will affect how society thinks about it – and indeed if people think about it at all. So small and regular updates to reporting the matter, making it normal to talk about climate change.

First published in The Earthbound Report.

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