University of Tasmania
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News media representation of public environmental litigation during environmental conflict : coal, coral and courtrooms

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posted on 2023-05-28, 09:05 authored by Nixon, CA
Environmental campaigns instigate Public Environmental Litigation (PEL) as a strategy to protect the environment. Within the legal system, court rules and formal legal discourse constrain and open opportunities for environmental claim-making. Outside the court, the evolving public sphere provides space for anyone to interpret and communicate court decisions. News media coverage of PEL provides a visible stage for legal discourse to influence 'mediatized environmental conflict' (Hutchins and Lester 2015). In this space, activists struggle to gain 'mediated visibility' and resort to drama and spectacle to attract news attention (Thompson 2005). The introduction of the legal sphere challenges this dynamic as courts have power over legal actors but also rely on news media to translate legal outcomes for the public. Without media coverage, PEL may be contained within the legal realm and environmental campaigns miss opportunities to educate and mobilise support for the case and the cause. This study aims to explore the relationship between environmental campaigns, PEL and media and communications using PEL against the Adani Carmichael coal mine in Australia as a case study. The approach applies mixed methods, including discourse analysis of news corpuses, semi-structured interviews and observation. The study found a changing relationship over time, with PEL destabilising mediatized environmental conflict. Litigants do not struggle for media attention but instead gain relative power as the role of the court influences actor relationships, communication styles and 'mediated visibility' (Thompson 2005). PEL sustains news coverage of an environmental campaign but when enacted as a campaign tactic is represented as a political act and an extension of protest. Litigants must also withstand challenges to their legitimacy as questions of who is the 'affected public' flow through news discourse in attempts to limit the 'social licence to operate' (Lester 2016a; Parsons et al 2014). This research demonstrates the important role of the legal sphere in mediatized environmental conflict and environmental politics.


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