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Challenges of climate change reporting

Opinion & Analysis
THERE are lots of climate injustices taking place around the world, but one is not free to report on these issues, controversies and associated challenges.

THERE are lots of climate injustices taking place around the world, but one is not free to report on these issues, controversies and associated challenges.

Journalists often find themselves, either failing to report appropriately and sufficiently, or spanners are thrown in their works, while lacking sufficient climate literacy, as well as political phobia, ideologies or policy inconsistences and the like. This leaves the reporter at the centre of shame and ill-equipped to articulate climate discourse.

Many media houses are incapacitated to fund media personnel to go for trips to climate change hotspots in order to go and report climate change impacts. Despite climate change being a cross-cutting issue and impacting on livelihoods, journalists often fail to give it the attention it deserves.

The reporting styles by these ill-equipped journalists is often haphazard, sporadic and lacking preparedness, climate change literacy and competences. The problem does not lie with the journalists per se, it is deeply embedded in the systems, politics, policies, agendas and ideological standpoints. Research has it that many environmental journalists normally face political impediments and persecution in their attempts to report climate change-related problems, including how weather reporting is handled.

While sometimes it is easier to report evidences on climate change, some journalists are not conversant with the climate change causative factors, basics and relevant discourses, as well as problem solving or solutions.

For these reasons and many others, a number of journalists are found wanting, as they end up making music or noise that benefit nobody.

The problem with communication is that writing or uttering something does not mean communication would have taken place. In this regard, communication should never be taken for granted or highly assumed.

Under reporting or misrepresenting climate change issues does not lead to climate change action strategies or solutions, because that is virtually not sufficiently empowering.

Countries with meagre resources to support or fund climate change problems cannot fund their own climate change action or adaptation programmes.

Instead of reporting the real data on climate change, sometimes attention is needlessly focused on either the head of State or someone with political clout during an occasional visit, or during the aftermath of a disaster.

Sometimes people would normally hear about climate change issues when their region or country is hosting a major climate change conference or event.

Furthermore, journalists often lack local climate change attributes in order to appropriately pitch their stories. The critical factor in this discourse, is the ability to directly link local climate change impacts to climate change impacts unfolding in their communities.

Issues involving national climate action or resilient programmes are not within most media houses’ realm or frame of references because many countries cannot fund their own adaptation programmes, as such, there is nothing much to report about.

Therefore, life goes on, hear nothing, see nothing and report nothing. Politicians who sometimes control journalists, most of them are not conversant with climate change issues and as a result you will never hear them uttering a single climate change word even during campaigning for votes. Climate change impacts are directly unfolding in the politicians’ constituencies, but they can’t articulate these issues; neither do they have any formulae for resolving the climate change-related impacts in their background.

In many countries, it is rare to see a climate change story occupying the by-line in the print media as climate change issues are often after thoughts and reported as one of those distant news items with peripheral significance. So in this regard, journalists lack the desired competence to shape public understanding of climate change issues.

Sometimes it is difficult for journalists to uncover illicit deals involving national resources by politicians for fear of being victimised. Natural resources can be exploited to dust by the powerful ruling elites while journalists remain mum.

Many journalists know the concept of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but they can hardly link these sustainable development goals to their country’s livelihood programmes.

Many laypersons out there can witness the physical changes taking place in their environs, but they don’t believe that it is climate change happening, but other social or religious phenomena.

For this reason, journalists lack keen audiences on climate change issues. Many audiences believe that sometimes it is not within their capacity to act on climate change, therefore, they don’t have anything to do with climate change.

For instance, in many African countries, drought has always been prevalent and that climate change has always been related to droughts, famine, or natural disasters.

When climate change experts talk about climate change education and awareness, journalists normally think that they are not part of the deal yet, hence they need empowering literacy.

Less media houses report on climate refuges opting to report on economic refugees instead. Issues of climate change as a security problem are not inherent in our journalism platforms.

It is also in the interest of even the public, that journalists acquire respective competences to articulate climate change issues, not only for their benefit but for the benefit of the audiences and the nation as well. Journalists are an integral component of the communication matrix and they deserve to be empowered to articulate environmental sustainability issues for value addition and beneficiation.

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