What the media needs to better cover climate change

Feb 222008

Journalists at the Editors' Consultation on Climate Change in New Delhi on Feb. 9. The journalists at a recent round table that brought them face to face with key leaders who shape global climate change policies discussed the problems they face covering the issues and suggested ways to help them better cover the beat.

At the Editors’ Consultation, organized by ICFJ's Knight International Journalism Fellowships and The Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi on Feb. 9, frontline global experts on climate change and development kicked off the discussions by sharing their thoughts on democracy, development, climate change and the role of the media.

Many of the journalists who participated had gatekeeper roles – that is, they make assignments or decisions on what gets into their medium and how it will be played. Reporters on the environment beat also participated and added the view from the trenches.

Outlining problems journalists working for the Indian-language media face when they cover climate-change issues, Anil Sinha, a senior journalist responsible for the environment beat at the Dainik Bhaskar, a Hindi-language daily that reaches 4 million readers through 40 editions in 36 places, said they need readily available, easy to understand information. Reporters on deadline do not have time to try to demystify jargon and data, he said. In addition, experts who can explain issues, especially in Hindi, are needed. Sinha said that even reporters for English-language media would find such fact sheets and glossaries useful.

Joydeep Gupta, an associate editor who overseas environment coverage at the wire agency Indo-Asian News Service, suggested creating a database of experts who will be available on deadline to speak to reporters. IANS is among the media partners working with the Knight International Journalism Fellowships to develop the environment beat.

Pachauri, whose TERI is the primary host in India for the Knight International Journalism Fellowships project, said he thought developing the database, a glossary that can be translated into Indian languages, and a constantly updated set of fact sheets on climate-change issues was a task for the Fellowships program. I agreed to take these up as an E-Newsroom project.

Arvind Kumar Singh, the Delhi editor of Hari Bhoomi – a Hindi language general interest daily whose name translates as “Green Earth” – emphasized the role of the Indian-language newspapers in developing grassroots momentum on climate change.

These newspapers were more in touch with the people most affected by climate-change issues, he added. Some of his readers were in greater danger of being killed by tigers, rather than the other way around, he remarked, and many of them tended to view environmental issues as concerns of the elite. Therefore, climate-change problems have to be explained to them as matters that will affect them directly, said Singh. Two of Hari Bhoomi's four editions are published in Chhatisgarh state, which is rich in mineral resources  and has a large population of tribespeople

A major problem faced by journalists on the environment beat face is getting data from government agencies, said Pallava Bagla, the science editor of NDTV. He also said original research done by Indian scientists tended to be sidelined by the work of international organizations and therefore isn’t widely publicized and is not easily available.

I suggested working with media to learn to use the Right to Information Act to get data from government agencies.

The journalists were asked to fill out a survey questionnaire about coverage of climate-change issues and what they think could help them do a better job. The sample is too small to be analyzed statistically or to have any statistical significance. Some of the key points they made:

  • Most felt that Indian media’s coverage of climate change issues was inadequate

  • Their own media’s coverage, they said was “Not as much as we would like”

  • Most rated their own understanding of climate change issues as “moderate, but increasing”

  • Coverage of the issues was only “somewhat consistent,” most said

  • Seminars on specific topics and writing workshops were welcomed by most, but online collaboration was endorsed by only two

  • One suggested an online method to ask questions of experts

  • Another suggestion: Periodic consultations between editors and experts to help clarify issues and learn to look for those most likely to emerge

  • A journalist said that publishers/media owners should be sensitized to climate-change issues so that they understand the need to provide resources for coverage

Among the the journalists at the Editors' Consultation were Pierre Fitter, the environment reporter of Businessworld weekly magazine; Anil Padmanabhan, chief of (Delhi) bureau of Mint, a financial daily published by The Wall Street Journal and The Hindustan Times; Jonathan Allen, a correspondent of  Reuters India Gurdip Singh, the economics editor of the United News of India wire service, who also is vice president of the Forum of Financial Writers, a professional organization; and Nik Gowing, the main anchor of BBC World TV.