In 2016, PBS NewsHour once again surpassed its nightly news competitors in climate coverage by devoting significant airtime to a range of climate-related issues and hosting a number of scientists. But President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would take aim at the network that has long been the nightly news leader in terms of climate coverage by cutting vital government support for PBS.
Trump’s budget blueprint released last week included a proposal to completely defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), an independent agency that partially funds PBS and NPR. CPB CEO Patricia Harrison said the proposed cuts could start "the collapse of the public media system itself and the end of this essential national service.”
In addition to funding a portion of PBS’ revenue source directly, about half of CPB’s $445 million budget goes to PBS member stations that broadcast PBS NewsHour, with stations in rural areas being especially reliant on CPB funding. In a statement to Media Matters, CPB stated, “The loss of this seed money would have a devastating effect [on stations in rural America]. These stations would have to raise approximately 200 percent more in private donations to replace the federal investment.”
Variety reported, “WCTE-TV in Cookeville, Tennessee, is a prime example. . . . Station manager Becky Magura told [PBS president Paula] Kerger that the station would shut down if it loses CPB funding, which amounts to about half of its operating budget. WCTE is the only TV station that directly serves the town and surrounding areas in Putnam County, population 73,245 as of 2013.”
This loss for viewers would be a shame because, as Media Matters has documented over the years, PBS NewsHour has consistently stood apart from its nightly news counterparts in the scale and scope of its climate coverage, dating back to at least 2012, when Media Matters first identified this trend. Once again, Media Matters’ annual report on broadcast networks’ climate coverage found that in 2016, PBS NewsHour far surpassed its competitors, airing more climate-related segments (46) than ABC, CBS and NBC did combined (36) in the same year.
PBS NewsHour also stands apart from the major networks for the content of its coverage. In 2016, it was the only show to air a segment that discussed the ramifications of a Trump or Hillary Clinton presidency on climate change before the election. The other nightly news shows, however, failed to provide any issues coverage of climate change during the campaign. PBS NewsHour also led the networks in coverage of the impacts of climate change — on extreme weather, plants and wildlife, and the economy — and important climate-related policies and issues, such as the Clean Power Plan and the Paris climate agreement and U.N. climate summits.
And at a time when researchers studying climate change are under immense pressure from Trump’s anti-science administration, PBS NewsHour also interviewed the largest number of scientists among the nightly news shows and featured the most segments about climate-related scientific research.
To cite just a few examples, PBS NewsHour invited scientists to discuss the news that 2015 was the hottest year on record and the consequences of continued global warming; the significance of the Paris climate accord; and climate change’s role in the record-breaking rainfall and flooding in Louisiana last year.
With the nightly newscasts having significantly decreased their climate coverage in 2016, it's alarming to see the network that provides such essential coverage being threatened with funding cuts. Thankfully, there are promising signs of improvement on the broadcast evening news programs. In early 2017, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News are both on their way to far surpass their climate coverage of 2016; in February, CBS Evening News even featured a week of climate segments from Antarctica for its “Climate Diaries” series.
In the meantime, PBS NewsHour still remains the gold standard when it comes to climate change coverage on nightly news shows.