Climate Change News – IPS Asia-Pacific

To Report About Climate Change, Go Beyond It

November 1, 2012 What's Up No Comments
Climate change workshop participants in Bangkok.

BANGKOK – The phrase ‘climate change’ occupies a lot of column inches these days, but there is a lot of room for reporting it far beyond just a scientific, or environment, or disaster story. Often, climate change straddles different news beats and needs to be covered as such in order to show how it affects people’s daily lives.

Climate change workshop participants in Bangkok. Photo Credit: Sarah Li

Breaking up the big term ‘climate change’ into stories that look at how communities are affected by, coping or finding ways to live with a changed environment was a key theme during a two-day workshop on ‘Climate Change: A Reporting Lens from Asia’, organised by IPS Asia-Pacific here on Apr. 24-25, 2012.

“We cannot take climate change as a stand-alone topic,” explained Ali Raza Rizvi, had of the Vientiane-based Regional Climate Change and Resilience Programme Asia for IUCN. Agriculture, health, education, the economy, tourism and other issues are all linked to climate change and development, he said, encouraging journalists to take a multi-faceted view to reporting the issue.

“To report climate change, you’ve got to go beyond climate change,” advised Kunda Dixit, editor and publisher of the ‘Nepali Times’ newspaper.

The workshop brought together 11 journalists from Asia whose story proposals were accepted by IPS Asia-Pacific for its climate change series, which is part of its media programme on ‘Development, Environment and Climate Change: A Reporting Lens from Asia’. The climate change series is but one of three activities under this programme, which is being carried out with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation.

The other key recurring theme during the workshop was the importance of journalists doing their homework and brushing up on climate change and related issues, in order to report more capably to their audiences.

Keep it simple, Nepali editor Kunda Dixit says. Photo Credit: Sarah Li

Under its climate change series, IPS Asia-Pacific will be producing a tool for reporting and following climate change as a development issue. Part of the workshop also dealt with terms related to climate change that could be better understood and used by media, as well as the need to contextualise climate change within development realities within Asian countries.

Animated discussions focused around a presentation by Suppakorn Chinvanno, senior research advisor at the South-east Asia START Regional Centre, who expressed the hope that journalists could look beyond black-and-white portrayal of issues when working on climate change stories.

Asked to discuss some terms that needed to be used correctly in media, he said for example that “climate is not weather” and “change is not variability”. There are multiple dimensions of climate change, and different areas or systems have different concerns about it.

There was also a lot of discussion around where, and how, to draw the line between attributing an event or occurrence to ‘climate change’ or to an ‘extreme weather event’, because often news reports use them interchangeably.

“Extreme weather itself is not climate change, but the change in magnitude or frequency of extreme events is climate change,” Suppakorn pointed out. “It is a single event, that is not climate at all.”

Discussing climate change also means talking about scenarios – and he said common questions asking which scenario is the most likely one are not very relevant. “Scenarios do not represent future truth,” he explained. “It is only a description of possible actions or events in the future, within a certain set of assumptions.”

It’s more useful to cover and discuss how to manage future risk and vulnerability, Suppakorn added.

Dixit, for his part, urged journalists to know the issues they report about, in order to write intelligently and give audiences information they can use. “We make scientists’ opinions into digestible information then give them to policymakers,” he said, adding that good reportage on climate change should be as simple as possible.

In the end, Thai journalist and filmmaker Pipope Panitchpakdi said, it comes down to good, professional storytelling that in the case of climate change, can link this phenomenon to the everyday lives of communities and individuals. “Journalism means we should make our viewers engaged.”

The journalist-participants also had a discussion about how much room for reporting environment, including climate change, there was in their newsrooms, and what changes they have seen in environment reporting and division of beats over the years.

On the second day of the workshop, each journalist presented his or her story idea around climate change and story plan. Discussions were held about them and suggestions made. The journalists in the series are from Sri Lanka, Philippines, India, Vietnam, Mongolia, Nepal, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh. (JS/IPS Asia-Pacific)

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