Networking between the media, climate change experts vital

Climate change information is paramount for national development, climate resilience, education, training and awareness. Climate information is everything that nations of the world need to deliver themselves from climate upheavals, impacts, lack of comprehensive knowledge of their environments and above all, eco-freaky behaviours and attitudes.

Therefore, information flow and dissemination about climate change between the media and climate change experts, including non-govenmental organisations (NGOs) is vital in reducing communication gaps and barriers militating against climate action strategies.

If the media and climate change experts rarely network, interact and find each other, then the general public who are supposed to be recipients or beneficiaries of critical climate change data would be at a disadvantage. The media’s power to educate, inform and influence enhances the level of climate change education and awareness required by the general public and laypersons alike, to have adequate understanding of the basics of climate change.

The people need the climate change information and knowledge for their everyday transactions including interacting with the environment. It is the close and interactive communication relationships between journalists and climate change experts which have levelling effects and facilitated the reduction of communication pitfalls and gaps.

Information is fundamental and adds value to the communication landscape, general knowledge of the environment and climate change. Information is also useful in equipping beneficiaries with life-skills in order for them to increase their knowledge base pertaining to adaptation and resilient issues. The other stumbling block is that, the people maybe lacking comprehensive access to information and interactive best practice communication tools, designed to make their voices heard.

Networking between journalists and climate experts enhances community participation and engagement. Failure to reach out to each other increases marginalisation, not only of vulnerable groups, but the general public from the vital and empowering climate information discourse. Journalists and climate change experts require knowledge of the language which communities or beneficiaries speak. Climate change information runs the risks of not being communicated properly and sufficiently, if it is not disseminated in local languages that are reachable and user friendly to communities involved.

It is also the duty of relevant authorities, policy makers, NGOs and government to strengthen the mechanisms for climate experts and journalists to share information transparently and increase trust and reduce suspicions. Journalists also need to be equipped with knowledge and skills on reporting climate change. This means that media houses should be the centre of climate knowledge and information reporting, while journalists should be at the forefront of information dissemination and reporting. In this regard, climate related information for journalists should be well packaged and strategically situated so that it is helpful to intended beneficiaries. If climate change information to be reported becomes complex for journalists then it can be distorted on the way or risk becoming ordinary story telling. Climate change reporting should have penetrative and empowering impact.

It has also been realised that, the uncertainty nature of climate of climate change always makes it difficult for journalists to be effective, especially given the risk associated with climate change uncertainties. Many journalists lack competences with regard to quantifying data and they are mostly on the qualitative side, which is not wrong, but it’s not comprehensive and exhaustive though. It is, therefore, the duty of climate change experts to nurture numerical and financial accounting skills in calculating costs and damages caused by natural disasters as well as coming up with budgets for projects, so that they are on equal footing when dealing with the private sector and public entities. Besides journalists being in the communication sector, they also lack communication tools to disseminate adaptation, gender, education, awareness, cultural and resilience issues.

Journalists need to be versatile in their communication and reporting strategies, so that they inculcate in people, the habit of enjoying reading climate change stories.

As climate change effects unfold in communities, when they are reported, the information should be as much closer to the intended beneficiaries as possible so that it becomes meaningful and people can easily associate what is being reported with their unfolding situations and circumstances. These situations and circumstances are significant in that they determine the people’s world views hence journalists would report using the appropriate lenses instead of imported world views and lenses.

There are also problems that, since NGOs work and interact with communities quite often, they are better placed to work with the media and climate change experts, although currently there is no sufficient collaboration among the said institutions. Maybe this is exacerbated by the fact that NGOs have their own information and communication officers as well, and instead of smooth linkages with the journalists in the mainstream media platforms, not much information is shared and whatever is initiated, is done for glossing purposes. For these reasons, there is less synchronisation from these powerful information stables and discourse communities. Some NGOs facilitate and support national media reporting by factoring in some funding to support media reporting when they craft their budgets and design their projects.

Although NGOs prepare newsletters on the development programmes they would be engaging in, the newsletters don’t reach the wide spectrum of the communities and above all, they don’t reach the people who matter most. Not all journalists in the mainstream media get the chances to read these newsletters, this also includes climate change experts and some policy makers. Therefore, NGOs need to share information with journalists as much as possible for publicity and reporting purposes. By holding workshops, field trips and briefings, NGOs can invite journalists from the mainstream media to expose them to their climate change programmes and activities to report on them.

As for climate change experts, they are left behind more, compared to journalists because there is no networking and collaboration among the change experts themselves in this country. There are climate change experts who have a scientific and technical background who are of the view that those with a communication background, are not climate change experts enough, yet everything needs to be communicated, sufficiently, appropriately and in an empowering manner.

We appreciate the Department of Climate change’s efforts to bring together all the climate change expects under one roof in its consultancy services. This is important that climate expects acknowledge each other and work together, while the media reports on these initiatives.

Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on:

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