The Power of Protest in the Media: Examining Portrayals of Climate Activism in UK News


Eric Scheuch, Mark Ortiz, Ganga Shreedhar, and Laura Thomas-Walters

Full citation: 
Scheuch, E.G., Ortiz, M., Shreedhar, G. et al. The power of protest in the media: examining portrayals of climate activism in UK news. Humanit Soc Sci Commun 11, 270 (2024).
Over the last several years, the United Kingdom has seen a wave of environmental movements demanding action on the climate crisis. While aligned in their goals, the groups undertaking this activism often diverge on the question of tactics. One such divergence occurred in January 2023, when Extinction Rebellion (XR) declared “We Quit”, ending actions that were disruptive to the general public. Peer groups Just Stop Oil and Animal Rising continued disruptive actions, viewing them as the best way to gain media coverage for their causes. Despite the urgency of addressing climate change and the growing prominence of direct action in British life, little research has examined how the news media covers and reacts to different climate actions. News media plays a vital role in influencing the public’s perception of the climate crisis and “appropriate” responses. We assembled a unique dataset of British news coverage of climate actions over a 7 month period, covering both before and after XR’s “We Quit” statement. Our results reveal that conservative publications cover climate actions more unfavorably and more inaccurately than other publications. Legal actions are generally covered more favorably than illegal ones in both conservative and non-conservative outlets and receive more coverage. Actions that target industry attract more coverage than those that target other actors, while actions that target the public are covered more favorably than those that do not. These results contribute to the scholarly debates surrounding the interaction between social movements and news media, especially on how different strategies potentially influence the extent and affective nature of coverage. They have implications for strategies adopted by climate advocates, depending on whether their goal is merely to draw attention to an issue or if it is to generate positive coverage.
Supplemental information: 
Location details: 
United Kingdom
Publication date: 
Publication type: