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Uncovering a climate catastrophe? Media coverage of Australia’s Black Summer bushfires and the revelatory extent of the climate blame frame

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posted on 2023-05-24, 04:18 authored by Marie-Gabrielle MocattaMarie-Gabrielle Mocatta, Hawley, E

The Black Summer of 2019/2020 saw the forests of southeast Australia go up in flames. The fire season started early, in September 2019, and by March 2020 fires had burned over 12.6 million hectares (Werner and Lyons). The scale and severity of the fires was quickly confirmed by scientists to be “unprecedented globally” (Boer et al.) and attributable to climate change (Nolan et al.).

The fires were also a media spectacle, generating months of apocalyptic front-page images and harrowing broadcast footage. Media coverage was particularly preoccupied by the cause of the fires. Media framing of disasters often seeks to attribute blame (Anderson et al.; Ewart and McLean) and, over the course of the fire period, blame for the fires was attributed to climate change in much media coverage. However, as the disaster unfolded, denialist discourses in some media outlets sought to veil this revelation by providing alternative explanations for the fires. Misinformation originating from social media also contributed to this obscuration.

In this article, we investigate the extent to which media coverage of the 2019/2020 bushfires functioned both to precipitate a climate change epiphany and also to support refutation of the connection between catastrophic fires and the climate crisis.


Publication title

M/C Journal








School of Geography, Planning and Spatial Sciences


Creative Industries Faculty, Queensland University of Technology

Place of publication


Rights statement

Copyright 2020 The Authors. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Repository Status

  • Open

Socio-economic Objectives

The media; Other environmental management not elsewhere classified; Understanding climate change not elsewhere classified

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