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Role of the Media in the Climate Change Debate and Process ADF VII Media Training Workshop Strategies for Sustainable Media Coverage of the Climate Change.

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Presentation on theme: "Role of the Media in the Climate Change Debate and Process ADF VII Media Training Workshop Strategies for Sustainable Media Coverage of the Climate Change."— Presentation transcript:

1 Role of the Media in the Climate Change Debate and Process ADF VII Media Training Workshop Strategies for Sustainable Media Coverage of the Climate Change Debate and Process in Africa Addis Ababa, Ethiopia — Oct.8-10, 2010 Aloysius E. Fomenky Communications & Advocacy Consultant

2 INTRODUCTION: DIFFICULT, NOT IMPOSSIBLE Man, bear, pig? Don't ask a journalist. This is the caption of this feature picture on the right which is posted on the Climate Change Dispatch news website www. manipulation www. manipulation The headline of the of the article is: “Should journalists second guess the scientific truth?” If anything, the question shows the difficult, yet laudable role of the media in the climate change debate and process. IT IS THE THEME OF OUR DISCUSSION TODAY…

3 PRESENTATION OUTLINE A.ROLE OF THE MEDIA COMMUNICATING CLIMATE CHANGE Central Role of the Media in Communicating Climate Change Positive Evolution in Media Engagement in Africa Some Challenges Scientists Face in Communicating CC Some Difficulties Journalists Encounter in Reporting CC Limits of Public Information B. STRATEGIES FOR SUSTAINABLE REPORTING ON CLIMATE CHANGE Going Beyond the Press Release Strengthening Strategic Communication Getting to the Right News Sources Giving the Story a Human Touch C.THE WAY FORWARD

4 Central Role of the Media in Communicating CC The most important single information source for the public about climate change is the media. Thus, facilitating the production of factual, intelligible, timely information by journalists on this sector is critically important to society. Scientists have an ethical obligation to the public to account for their stewardship of the public funds used to support their work. In large part, they can meet this obligation by helping produce explanatory material such as news releases and by making themselves available to the public's representative, the media. The publicity generated by a published news story helps communicate scientific information among researchers and policymakers. Working with the media also makes it far more likely that the resulting stories will be accurate. As research becomes more complex, even the journalists could find it difficult to keep up with the fields they covers. Regardless of the scientists' cooperation, journalists will still cover a significant piece of research news. So, issuing carefully worded releases and explaining the work in interviews would help make that coverage more accurate. Better coverage of climate change could attract more public and private support for research. It could also attract more talented scholars to careers in the area.

5 Positive Evolution in Media Engagement Coverage of the climate change debate and process by the African media has followed a pattern similar to one noticed in how the media initially treated HIV/AIDS news when the pandemic first broke out: 1. No interest, as a result of low level of understanding of the issues; 2. Timid engagement, marked by episodic reports, mainly on scientific meetings on climate change; 3. The theme gains traction, media training workshops, agencies and institutions establish communication units and the media begins to receive press releases, pamphlets, etc.; 4. Newspapers establish CC sections. Over all coverage of CC reflects general mobilisation by governments, civil society, development agencies. Journalism schools develop curricula on reporting climate change, etc. 5. IDEAL SITUATION. Acceptance of communication as a full programme area in the climate change process. We are not yet in this phase and it is unlikely that it comes soon; 6. We are now in phase 4 of the reporting cycle which is characterized by the publication of news stories or programming on radio/TV climate change meetings and projects. based almost entirely on CC project launch and the negotiation process.

6 Some Challenges Scientists Face in Communicating CC Relationships between reporters and scientists may appear cordial and productive, but there are several areas that sometimes generate misunderstanding and tension. For example:- Some scientists may see media focus on their work as somehow self-aggrandizing, especially in the eyes of other colleagues. Scientists often worry about jeopardizing scientific publication of data by revealing details prematurely. They tend to over look the fact that research presented at a meeting is considered in the public domain, and are fair game for journalistic coverage. Another area of misunderstanding is the type of headlines reporters often use for climate change stories. The problem is exacerbated is publications where headlines are done by headline writers and not by the reporters themselves. “This is not what I meant” is usually the complaint of scientists when they see their story in the newspaper. When a story breaks dealing with disaster, accident, adverse reaction, or scientific or technological failure, the public information unit should immediately issue a press release establishing the position of the scientific institution involved. Personal or institutional contacts? Should they contact individual reporters or their institutions?

7 Difficulties the Media Face in Reporting on Climate Change Climate change is a complex issue that presents its own challenges for effective communication. It has only just gained immediacy and traction in the media is low. The nature and language of climate change science and negotiations make it difficult for the general public, policy-makers and even decision-makers to respond. Specific training is required for insightful reporting. Communication of complex scientific information to policy-makers, that is, the transition from scientific information to socio-political knowledge is a difficult task. Conflicting financial, ecological and political interests inhibit frank public discussion on the phenomenon of climate change. Without empowering the media to take up climate change issues in newspaper columns or in radio/TV programs, these conflicting interests could obscure and even overshadow the real dangers which climate change poses to Africa. While misrepresentation of the effects of climate by mass media can have negative consequences, a good understanding of, and careful reporting that educates the public about the phenomenon and its impacts has an enormous potential to do good.

8 The Limits of Public Information Most media activities on CC in Africa are limited to public information, with minimal attention paid to strategic communication. For example. when the AU adopted a Common Position in the run up to Copenhagen 2009, one would have expected a critical analysis of the position by the media. But coverage was limited to the adoption of that position! Nearly all UN agencies development institutions in Africa have climate change components. Press releases about meetings and studies by all these bodies are fed to the media through their press units. The AUC-EU Partnership has a vibrant climate change component whose press releases occasional get past newsroom gatekeepers. So too do those from all the Regional Economic Communities in Africa that run climate change programmes. Some institutions now offer formal courses in environmental health and climate change reporting. Graduates have made attempts to create dedicated columns for climate change within their media outlets. However, they face ferocious competition from political news, sports and HIV/AIDS items. National and community radio networks, TV stations and mainstream newspapers carry climate change programs, etc. But they are dominated by reports, with few features and magazine programs. BBC manages AFRICA TALKS CLIMATE CHANGE project which engages specialists across Africa in climate change-oriented online discussions. The SciDev.Net ( also carries good policy and editorial pieces on climate change and Africa. These are 2 outlets that elicits audience participation.


10 1.Going Beyond the Press Release Even without any conclusive continent-wide evaluation exercise, it is easy to see that there is room for improvement in the media coverage of, and participation in the CC debate. This could be done by going beyond the publication of press releases got from agencies or reporting on meetings and conferences. Climate Change challenges go deeper than the sheer lack of knowledge or misinformation on the phenomenon. For example, in-depth analyses, editorials and features are needed to enhance public understanding of the issues. The debate on Climate Change mitigation, adaptation and financing processes are relatively new discussions in the African media. Press releases and reports of meetings and conferences cannot quite explain the different options to the politicians and to some extent, negotiators. Just to raise awareness is not enough. More room needs to be created for local insights on what/how they think about adapting to long draughts, etc. When locals provide their own inputs, they are much more likely to internalize the solutions. In Africa, there are underlying power dynamics such as land ownership, gender roles, religious beliefs and succession modes that need to be well understood before designing a communication strategy on climate change. Better knowledge of how these issues interrelate would resonate with the locals.

11 2.Incorporate Strategic Communication We have seen that public information by itself is not enough to effect policy or behaviour change that is needed to adequately address the challenges posed by impacts of climate change. In the early 1990s, announcing vaccination dates and places throughout Cameroon was not enough convince women in some parts of the country to take their children for vaccination, precisely because it failed to address existing concerns and widespread belief that the exercise was intended to sterilize their young girls. Residents of the Gabonese and Cameroonian forests need to know about alternative sources of proteins before becoming concerned with national campaigns for the protection of wildlife. A decade ago, media campaigns to fight female genital mutilation and cuttings (FGM/C) in West Africa appeared fruitless until when opinion leaders and key actors (the so-called women with knives) on the ground were engaged in community dialogue on its effects and alternative sources of income. Better media coverage requires a new communication and reporting approach whereby CC projects establish communication units that are more that simple add-ons for reporting on, or promoting the activities of other units of the projects. When these units go beyond issuing communiqués and engage reporters with clear human-interest story leads, coverage will improve; and media contributions to the CC debate and process would be better defined and implemented. The activities of such communication units could include strategic communication and advocacy plans to enhance buy-in by actual and potential project partners, allies and most importantly, the opposition. The African media must seek to have a good understanding of how social norms on land use or on forest preservation persist or have changed in specific communities.

12 3.Getting to the right news sources …1 Any journalist working or wanting to write on climate change has a large variety of sources at his disposal. However, it is up to each reporter to fashion them, to develop them and to maintain them in order to be able to turn to the right source at the right time. Personal effort - Since reporters are not experts in climate change, each of them should create their "lists of experts" to consult as need arises; read papers which explain complex concepts; be attentive to national and international climate change news. The address book -The journalism profession is based essentially on sources and consequently on good contacts. Keep and update a personal address book. Public sources – Check out for public sources of news on climate change. This is information generally available in one form or another – published or unpublished, like books, information guides, directories, periodicals, other media, brochures, Internet, etc. Active sources - These are sources put in place by organizations to provide the media with information: press releases, press conferences, dinners and other receptions.

13 4.Getting to the right sources …2 Statutory sources - This is information which is made available to the public as required by the laws and regulations of the state. An example would be the annual address of the minister of environment or of the institution in charge of CC to Parliament, etc. Disinterested sources - In reality, it is difficult to have a disinterested source for news. Most sources have a particular interest in giving the news, except perhaps in a breaking news situation. Always try to seek and second opinion when someone (intellectuals, researchers, diplomats and other workers in international organizations) calls to announce a “breakthrough”. Fortuitous sources - These are daily contacts which a reporter ought to take seriously by developing and maintaining them. From simple conversations (on climate change) with friends, co-workers or family members, one could develop a fascinating news idea. Government policy – On the day there is no meeting to cover (!!!), try investigating questions like: Does my government have a clear policy on climate change? Has it signed most current international/regional conventions on CC? Is it implementing the conventions? What are the challenges it faces? Answers to these questions could keep you writing for weeks and weeks in your newspaper if you have good sources.

14 5. Giving the Story a Human Touch Different African media can consciously and effectively reframe their climate change news agenda to take on CC impacts on the immediate communities, rather than dwelling on the veracity or otherwise CC science. It’s complicated, and the effects of climate change are real and palpable across Africa. Floods are real in Mozambique, Ghana, Burkina Faso and draughts in Sudan, Eritrea, Kenya, Tanzania, Senegal etc., which pose concrete survival challenges that the media need to engage communities to address. Get down to those affected by the impacts of floods (climate change) and talk to them; tell the stories about their suffering, but also their survival tactics, as it were. These are the issues that affect our people directly, and we cannot afford to barely report what others are saying about the issues and hope to remain relevant within our context. The so-called Climategate did not particularly help the situation of the media in Africa. It overshadowed the African Common Position which never got enough hearing at the last conference. Most reporters showed more interest in what they perceived as divisions between S.A and rest of the continent than articulating African expectations and deception at the Summit.

15 C.THE WAY FORWARD …1 Climate change has an immense impact on society today, as the world faces the challenges of its multiple impacts on food security, health and peace, but also on how they affect the future of humanity and of the Planet Earth. As in all the sciences, the central challenge for climate scientists is not just the creation, but the sharing, acquisition and use of knowledge. Knowledge-sharing is of particular relevance to climate change, simply because scientists and policymakers are still grappling with how to handle the unfolding disaster forecast by its effects. Government and institutions typically count on us in the news media to perform informational duties such as producing press releases and designing media campaigns. Of course, those interventions are needed and can be effective in disseminating basic information to help people/policy makers make better informed decisions. But, if institutions and agencies consider communications as a development activity in its own right, then the participation of the African media in the CC debate and their role in CC processes require a different approach that integrates strategic communication and advocacy initiatives.

16 THE WAY FORWARD …2 Normally, health experts would not conclude that some people fail to use condoms with multiple sex partners because they lack information on the risks involved! Unless we seek behavior change interventions, resulting exclusively to information interventions and reporting might not easily deliver the expected results. Sustainable media coverage of the climate change debate and processes requires radio/TV programs and newspaper articles that resonate with people’s concerns; for example, survival strategies in the face of draughts, perceived risks of farmer-grazer conflicts, as well as information needs on how other peoples manage similar problems, etc. Many in the media assert that they lack knowledge of climate change and consider it too scientific and that the subject itself is not an audience priority. It is important to build capacity of the news and non-news media to communicate climate change in locally relevant ways.

17 THE LAST WORD Over all, the media have assumed their place within the matrix of the defining issues of development in Africa. Society, including scientists, should understand the media role as one of a catalytic force for generating debates, proposing choices and forging consensus on solutions to climate change and its impact on the region. The Network of Climate Journalists in the Greater Horn of Africa a certainly a couple of initiatives offer good examples of Best Practice that can be emulated by the media. The African media can best play that by doing what they know how to do best: ask questions; get the facts straight before writing stories.


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