Climate-change media alliance tackles information vacuum in developing nations

A unique partnership of international organisations and journalists has given a major boost to media coverage of climate change in developing nations.

News, 21 January 2008

A unique partnership of international organisations and journalists has given a major boost to media coverage of climate change in developing nations.

Internews, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and Panos joined forces to create the Climate Change Media Partnership to strengthen the reporting of climate change before, during and after last month's UN conference in Bali.

The Climate Change Media Partnership brought 40 journalists from 22 countries to Bali and provided a programme of support that included briefings, access to experts and negotiators, and editorial support from Alex Kirby, the BBC's former environment correspondent.

"The Climate Change Media Partnership has been a huge help to us fellows," said Wambi Michael of the Voice of Teso radio station in Uganda. "This [first] week was like a beginning class. Before I didn't know what the Clean Development Mechanism is, or what adaptation is. It's sad that in my country, which just had devastating floods, that the biggest newspaper in the country didn't send a journalist here."

During the conference, the journalists produced hundreds of stories for print, online, radio and TV outlets in their home countries. Their reports and blogs are viewable in English, Chinese, Arabic, Spanish and Vietnamese from the climate change media partnership website.

At a special briefing for the journalists, the UK Climate Change Minister Phil Woolas said that, "having an informed and healthy media is an essential path to tackling climate change".

But without the Climate Change Media Partnership many of the countries most vulnerable to climate change would have had zero media representation at the conference, making them reliant on reports from Western news agencies that are not in a position to provide much locally relevant information.

The Partnership was responsible, for instance, for bringing to Bali the only journalists from some of the countries in Asia and Africa that were singled out in recent IPCC reports and the 2008 UN Human Development Report as being particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts.

The Partnership helped to bridge the information gap by connecting journalists with negotiators from their countries and experts who could provide information relevant to their audiences back home.

"There is really no question that Bali was a wonderful experience," says one of the journalists, Petre Williams of the Jamaican Observer newspaper. "For most, if not all of us, it was baptism by fire, covering this our first BIG environmental conference. But it was appropriately challenging and fantastic, giving us the opportunity to attract and build new sources as well as friends."

In Bali, the partnership ran a day-long media clinic at which 18 specialists made presentations and took questions from the journalists. The clinic covered issues such as biofuels, deforestation, carbon trading and adaptation to climate change, as well as how climate change is communicated in different contexts.

Saleemul Huq, head of climate change at IIED, urged journalists to report on ways that communities can adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change. "There are a million stories to tell," he said.

The Climate Change Media Partnership will not end in Bali. The journalists will receive ongoing support and briefings in the run up to the crucial COP15 meeting Copenhagen in 2009. They will be helped to join networks of fellow reporters, scientists and other experts to continue strengthening their ability to report on climate change.

Rash Behari Bhattacharjee of The Sun newspaper in Malaysia said the programme's benefits were: "A direct insight into the UNFCCC process which would not have been possible otherwise; a working understanding of the politics and science behind the talks; access to a tremendous pool of expertise on the various sectors involved; insight into alternative viewpoints about development and climate change, climate justice, etc; networking with like-minded journalists and activists; experience in online media collaboration; and access to online information through information sharing."

The journalists will also be encouraged by the partnership to generate in-country public debate on the policies of their governments on climate change, and to help their audiences understand the governance and equity issues at stake on the road from Bali to Copenhagen.

The Partnership was made possible thanks to funding from the Open Society Institute, the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Commonwealth Foundation, IDRC, Oxfam and the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation. Internews, IIED and Panos are seeking additional partners for COP14 and 15 programmes in 2008/9.