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Media attitudes to reporting climate change

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Rod Harbinson
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Effective responses to climate change must include people in climate-vulnerable regions in the development of adaptation and mitigation strategies. The media in these regions can play an important role in communicating the issues, but the media in many developing countries shows little interest in the climate change debate.Research from Panos London, UK, examines the
experiences of journalists and media professionals in Honduras, Jamaica, Sri
Lanka and Zambia. These countries have all recently suffered severe changes in climatic
conditions. Nearly all the journalists interviewed agreed that climate change
is a major issue, and provided examples from their own countries. However, the
research suggests that the media in each country could play a greater role in
stimulating debate and providing coverage of climate change issues:
Honduras suffers
from deforestation and land degradation, but environmental issues and climate
change are not a priority for the media.
In Jamaica, few newspaper columns, radio or TV programmes focus specifically
on the environment.
In Zambia, there is very little coverage of climate change, despite
frequent droughts over Southern Africa.
The situation is
better in Sri Lanka, where media coverage of environmental issues is
good. However, although the media covers hurricanes, droughts and flooding, the
stories do not often make a link to climate change.
Journalists identified several obstacles to reporting
climate change stories. They lack access to quality information on the subject,
and most information is only available in English. Also the national media is often
controlled by businesses with other priorities and little interest in the debate.
The research shows:
Specialist
journalists presented the causes and effects of climate change well, but reports
from non-specialists were often vague and confused.
Except for Zambia, few journalists could give local examples of people
adapting and devising strategies to cope with climate change.
Journalists lacked
access to accurate and clear information on climate change and criticised
scientists and institutions for using jargon.
Journalists
lacked resources to cover climate change issues and needed training.
Developing countries urgently need public discussions
about climate change. People involved with the issues must provide journalists with
information for a good story and editors need to look for human interest angles.
However, the media should not focus too specifically on climate change at the
expense of covering other poverty-related issues. Recommendations include:
There should be
constant interaction between people with climate change information, the media
and people affected by climate change to increase awareness of the issues.
Climate change
experts should encourage the media to play a key role in raising awareness of
the issue.
Scientists and
policymakers must break down the jargon used in relation to climate change
issues.
Policymakers
should provide financial resources for training journalists and invest in
public media initiatives.
Information
sources, such as websites, need to be reliable and accessible, with information
available in a variety of languages; there should also be an image bank for
journalists to use.
The media should report
people-centred climate change stories to make the issue relevant to the public.