Do happy beach pictures match stories of extreme heat? (Spoiler: no)

Criticism of Dutch media (incl also on RTL News) has been on Twitter for the past few days. ‘Stop happy images of the climate crisis’, wrote a user in a tweet from RTL Nieuws with a photo of children swimming.

The article itself was about ‘suffering during tropical days and nights’.


Other media also suffered. In a report from NOS on smog announced by RIVM, a child was pictured by a swimming pool. One user felt that ‘disruptive and potentially deadly weather’ should not be presented as such.

An American meteorologist who has spent the last few days also surprised about the images that European media post to articles about the extreme heat, summed it up as follows: “If a hurricane approaches here, we also do not show images of kitesurfers enjoying the waves.”

‘Incorrect presentation’

For media researcher Nadine Strauß, the discussion is not new. Together with a group of international researchers at the University of the British Exeter, she researched how European media reported in 2019 on the heat wave, which also caused an excess mortality of 400 people in the Netherlands.

The conclusion? “Images in the media with reports of the heatwave give a misrepresentation of things,” Strauß told RTL Nieuws. She notes that the study, which was published in May, has not yet been peer reviewed. So it has not yet been confirmed by other scientists.

Many positive pictures

The researchers conclude that the media ‘play an important role in image formation in society’. The researchers find it problematic that the heat wave in 2019 was mainly depicted with pictures of people ‘enjoying themselves in the sun’. Almost all stories about the heat were negative at the time, but a positive image emerged in a third of all articles.

The researchers also focused only on articles that talked about both a heat wave and climate change, Strauß explains. In many other news stories, where that link was not made and only wrote about heat, beach photos were seen even more often, according to the research.

“Oh, it’s a little hot”

Anke Wonneberger, communications researcher at the University of Amsterdam (UvA), calls climate change a ‘serious issue’, which ‘has not yet fully caught the eye of a large part of the population’. “People think, ‘Well, it’s a little hot.’ “But these temperatures cost lives, cause health damage and damage to nature.”

“There should be a lot more attention – also in pictures – to the discomfort that people experience during extreme weather,” says Strauß. She would rather see pictures of seniors wearing in front of fans, children feeling very hot or people having to cool off by walking inside. Strauß emphasizes that scary images are not necessary. “But the current picture does not take enough account of vulnerable groups.”

Getting used to the heat

Strauß and the other researchers urge the media: Take this opportunity and show what our future looks like by portraying these events as realistically as possible. “That’s how society gets used to the idea of ​​extreme heat in our daily lives.”

Climate specialist Bart Verheggen understands that the media struggles with images of extreme temperatures as we experience them today. “Heat has many aspects. Part of the story is actually that people lie on the beach when it’s hot. But the heat is now much more extreme than it was a few decades ago, and we are more aware of the risks that it results.”

He believes that it is important that visual attention is now also paid to the other aspects, such as discomfort and health risks during extremely hot days. “We still have a bit to catch up on in that regard.”

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