Changing Climates and the Media: Lancaster workshop

climate change workshopThe Lancaster workshop on Changing Climates and the Media took place last Monday (21st Sep 2015).  This was a joint event organised by the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS) and the Department of Sociology, Lancaster University.

The workshop brought together leading academics from a wide range of disciplines – sociology, media studies, political and environmental sciences, psychology, and linguistics – as well as community experts from the Environment Agency and the Green Alliance. The result was a lively debate on the interaction between the news media and the British society, and a critical reflection on people’s perception of the problem and effective ways to communicate the issue and promote changes in behaviour and practices.

Professor John Urry from Lancaster University opened the event with a brief overview of the major challenges posed by climate change. He also introduced the CASS project on Changing Climates, a corpus-based research on how climate change issues have been debated in the British and Brazilian news media in the past decade. This contrastive analysis is interesting for various reasons. These include striking differences related to public perception of the problem. While climate-change scepticism is prominent within the public debate in Britain, Brazil is a leading country in terms of concern about climate change, with nine-in-ten Brazilians considering global warming a very serious problem. Dr Carmen Dayrell presented some examples of fundamental differences between the media debate in these two countries. Unlike the British press, Brazilian newspapers articulate the discourse along the same lines as those advocated by the IPCC. This includes stressing the position of developed and developing nations and the projected consequences of the impact of climate change on the Earth’s system, such as the melting of polar icefields, loss of biodiversity and increased frequency of extreme weather events.

The Changing Climates project is currently being extended to Germany and Italy. Dr Marcus Müller from the Technische Universität Darmstadt discussed his preliminary findings on how the German news media has represented climate change issues. Dr M. Cristina Caimotto and Dr Osman Arrobbio from the University of Turin presented their initial observations of the Italian context and data. The Changing Climates presentation concluded with insightful comments by Dr Glenn Watts, the Environment Agency’s research lead on climate change and resource use and Lancaster’s primary partner in the Changing Climates project.

The afternoon session explored climate change from various perspectives. It started with Professor Reiner Grundmann from University of Nottingham who presented corpus research on the media coverage of climate change across Britain, Germany, France and the US. Dr James Painter from the University of Oxford and Dr Neil Gavin from the University of Liverpool focused on the coverage of the UN IPCC reports in the news media and television respectively.

The focus then turned to the British parliament and the 2009 debate on the Climate Change Bill. How do politicians talk about climate change in public? This question was addressed by Rebecca Willis, a PhD candidate at Lancaster University and a member of the Green Alliance. Following that, Dr Neil Simcock, also from Lancaster University, explored the representations of ‘essential’ energy use in the UK media. The session concluded with Professor Alison Anderson from Plymouth University’s talk on the role of local news media in communicating climate change issues.

Our sincere thanks to all participants of the Lancaster workshop for making it a unique and very special event. This was an excellent opportunity to exchange ideas and share experiences which we hope will foster enhanced collaboration between the various disciplines.


25th Anniversary Conference for the Muslim News

muslimnews0I was honoured to attend the 25th Anniversary Conference for the Muslim News on the 15th September. The event was organized by the Society of Editors and the Daily Telegraph had provided the venue – the spectacular Merchant Taylor’s Hall in the City of London. The event began with a speech by the Bob Satchwell, Executive Director of the Society of Editors and a welcoming speech by Lord Black of the Telegraph Media Group. Following that, Fatima Manji of Channel 4 News introduced me and I gave the morning’s keynote speech discussing the work which I did with Paul Baker and Costas Gabrielatos (Discourse Analysis and Media Attitudes, The Representation of Islam in the British Press) looking at the representation of Islam and Muslims in the UK press. I was also very happy to be able to present some early findings from a follow up study Paul Baker and I are currently doing, supported by CASS and the Muslim NGO MEND, looking at how things have developed since our work was published. This is based on approximately 80 million words more data composed of all UK national newspapers articles mentioning Muslims and Islam in the period 2010-2015.

The audience included a mixture of journalists, newspaper editors and TV news reporters and editors. In addition there were representatives from many faith groups and NGOs present too. The research was very well received by the audience. After the talk a panel was convened to discuss the work and take questions from the audience. The panel included John Wellington, the managing editor of the Mail on Sunday, Doug Wills, managing editor of the London Evening Standard and the Independent group of newspapers and Sue Ryan, former managing editor of the Daily Telegraph and manager of the trainee programme for the Mail group. It was a real privilege to be able to discuss our work with them and I found them to be open to criticism and ready to consider change. One point that emerged from the discussion that was of interest, I thought, was that the press are often criticized for their use of language when that usage is current in general English. While this puts the press in the spotlight, it also means that at times they can be in the vanguard of discussion and change in language use, as the recent discussion of the use of the word ‘migrant’ in the UK media has shown. This makes an engagement with media language all the more important for academic researchers.

Following this panel was a second panel, chaired by Fatima Manji, composed of the editors of ITN news and BBC news (Robin Elias and James Stephenson) as well as Channel 4’s Home Affairs correspondent Simon Israel. Julian Petley, author of Pointing the finger: Islam and Muslims in the British media, gave academic weight to this panel’s discussion. A very thought provoking discussion ensued about how to achieve a more inclusive and representative newsroom which demonstrated, once again, that the media was willing to engage in discussion and was prepared to embrace change.

After lunch the final session, chaired by Ehsan Masood of Research Fortnight, followed a
contribution from Jonathan Heywood of Impress on a Leveson compliant media watchdog that Impress are developing. A lively debate followed led by the head of IPSO, Sir Alan Moses. Sir Alan was joined by prominent editors from The Sunday Times (Eleanor Mills) and The Observer (Stephen Pritchard) as well as the Managing Editor of the London Evening Standard and Independent Group, Will Gore. A key tension that was highlighted by Sir Alan Moses in the debate was between what in principle may be desirable and what is achievable in reality. He also made the important point that we have to decide as a society where we want regulation to end and a softer form of social regulation to begin. I finished the afternoon with a brief and rewarding discussion of my work with Sir Alan.

The event was a rare and precious opportunity to showcase academic research to a range of key stakeholders and for that opportunity I am very grateful both to MEND and to Muslim News.

“Fleeing, Sneaking, Flooding” – The importance of language in the EU migrant crisis

With tensions over the current EU migrant crisis increasing, we at CASS thought it would be timely to highlight the importance of the language used in the debate about this humanitarian crisis. In this paper, by Paul Baker and Costas Gabrielatos, the authors analyse the construction of refugees and asylum seekers in UK press articles.
For readers who do not have access to Sage, you can find a final draft of the paper here free of charge. Please note that this version of the paper has the tables and figures at the end of the paper.


CASS presentation at Cambridge University Centre of Islamic Studies symposium on Anti-Muslim Hate Crime

The CASS ‘Hate Speech’ project team were invited on the 16th of June to present some of our findings at a Symposium on Anti-Muslim Hate Crime held at the University of Cambridge Centre of Islamic Studies. The Symposium was organised by Julian Hargreaves, a Lancaster University Law School PhD student and Research Associate at the Cambridge Centre.

The symposium brought together academics, community experts and civil society leaders in a unique event that allowed the sharing of knowledge, experience and expertise on the subject from a wide range of perspectives.

The first session of the day focussed on the research approaches and findings from three UK academic centres. Stevie-Jade Hardy from the University of Leicester’s Hate Crime Project isolated and shared some of the project’s key findings on experiences and impacts of hate crime for Muslims in Leicester. Sussex University PhD student Harriet Fearn discussed the early observations she had made in her research on the impacts of hate crime against Muslims on the internet.

Representing CASS and Lancaster University Law School, Paul Iganski and I then delivered a presentation of our work conducted with Jonathan Culpeper examining Crown Prosecution Service files from cases of religiously aggravated offences. In our paper titled ‘A question of faith?’, Paul and I explored the boundaries of free speech, the roles of religious identity and religious beliefs in the alleged offences committed, and the commonalities in the circumstances and contexts which surround offences prosecuted as religiously aggravated.

After lunch, the experiences of representatives from three community organisations confronting hate crime in Britain were shared with those present. Alice Purves gave a compelling account of the challenges faced by the Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council (ELREC). Jed Din, director of the Bradford Hate Crime Alliance then offered a personal account of the particular challenges of anti-Muslim hate crime and his own visions to develop community cohesion as a response. The session concluded with a presentation on anti-Muslim hate crime in Leicester from Jawaahir Daahir, CEO of the Somali Development Services.

The final session of the day, chaired by Paul Iganski, offered different approaches to documenting and responding to anti-Muslim hate crime. Shenaz Bunglawala, the head of research at MEND, shared insights and observations on the prevalence of anti-Muslim hate crime and attitudes to Muslims in Britain. The presentation included several of the key findings and observations from the research led by CASS director Tony McEnery on Representations of Islam in the British press. Those gathered then had the opportunity to hear from Hayyan Bhabha, the independent parliamentary researcher for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia, who shared the latest developments in the work of the APPG and illustrated some of the evidence received or collated by the APPG. The final paper of the day came from Vishal Vora, from SOAS, with a perspective on indirect discrimination towards British Muslim women as a consequence of declarations of ‘non marriage’ by the English family court.


From left to right: Abe Sweiry, Julian Hargreaves and Paul Iganski

The symposium was a very successful event and Paul and I very much enjoyed contributing to the day. Thanks are due to Julian and to Louise Beazor for putting together a very interesting programme, bringing together a wide range of perspectives on an important social issue, and arranging a highly productive day for all in attendance.

“Fighting Words Are Rarer Among British Doctors”: ‘Metaphor in End of Life Care’ project findings featured in the New York Times

Key findings from the CASS-affiliated ‘Metaphor in End of Life Care‘ (MELC) project have been featured in the New York Times. Journalist Paula Span interviews Principal Investigator Elena Semino and compares findings from the UK-based project to her own experiences in the US. Whereas ‘British public health leaders and medical practitioners are more apt to talk about the end of life as a “journey” instead of a war, with “pathways” and “steps” instead of fights and weapons’, Span finds frequent references to battles ‘on websites for cancer organizations in the United States, like Susan G. Komen and the American Cancer Society’.

Read more about the team’s findings and Span’s comparison to discursive practices in the US by accessing the full article on the New York Times: Fighting Words Are Rarer Among British Doctors

New CASS Briefing: Representations of Islam in the British press, 1998 – 2009

CASSbriefings-islamRepresentations of Islam in the British press, 1998 – 2009
 Is the British press Islamophobic? How are Islam and Muslims typically written about? Have representations of Islam and Muslims changed over time, particularly since 9/11? Are some newspapers less ‘friendly’ towards Muslims than others? Read this CASS: Briefing of a large-scale corpus-based discourse analytical study to discover more.

New resources will be added regularly to the new CASS: Briefings tab above, so check back soon.