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Journalists in developing countries have a poor understanding of climate change, and this is holding back public debate on the issue, says a report published this week.
The solution, it suggests, lies partly in greater willingness on the part of both policymakers and scientists to ensure that climate change information is made readily available in a jargon-free form.
The report, entitled ‘Whatever the weather’, surveyed 47 journalists in Honduras, Jamaica, Sri Lanka and Zambia. It was commissioned by the Environment Programme of the UK-based non-governmental organisation Panos London.
The report concludes that a lack of information about climate change, combined with too few well-informed and interested editors, prevents appropriate media coverage in these countries.
It notes, for example, that Sri Lanka has "a vibrant media community doing interesting and valuable work on the environment". But even there, it says, coverage is uneven, and the media often fail to link related issues, such as drought and hurricanes, to climate change.
The authors argue that even where climate change policies exist in developing countries, they are often disconnected from local needs. To tackle this, they recommend ensuring that local people become involved in climate change debates.
"The media can encourage greater public participation in debates that shape policy," they write. "The extent to which they play this role depends on stories being accessible and interesting."
Hepeng Jia, a journalist for China Daily, investigated climate change reporting in China last year. He says the Chinese media rarely report on local climate change issues and activities, and rarely mention local research.
He believes the reason for this is that climate change is viewed primarily as the responsibility of the developed world.
The authors of the Panos report want to promote constant interaction between those who have climate change information, the media, and those affected by it. They say policymakers and scientists should help information flow by avoiding jargon.
They also recognise that the media needs to present people-centred stories, and propose an online image database to help make articles compelling and attractive.