How the AAP’s media component helped promote national coverage of climate issues
By Jacqueline Frank, Media Capacity Building Project Regional Project Manager
People all over Africa are recognising and feeling the impacts of climate change—uncertain rainfall patterns, coastal erosion, seasonal changes, extreme weather events— and need to know more about the causes of what they are facing, where the situation is heading and what their opportunities are for adaptation.
The AAP’s Media Capacity Building Project (MCBP) set out to improve the way climate change is reported in AAP countries. We recruited four senior African journalists with strong backgrounds in science and environment and assigned them to lead workshops and other training activities, one Team Leader in each of our four clusters of five AAP countries.
One regional workshop was held for each cluster, and a three-day workshop was held in each of the 20 AAP countries. Each national workshop featured local experts leading sessions on climate change science, climate change and gender, and new media tools for journalists, while the regional workshops were designed to foster and build on exposure to the experiences of international peers.
The MCBP sought to ensure that journalists understood the connection between climate change and development and the difference between a climate-related threat and a developmental failure. The Project also sought to teach journalists that climate change is a cross-cutting issue, affecting the economy, tourism, agriculture, forestry, infrastructure, water, health, politics and other areas on which they might report.
Many countries, shared challenges
Over the 18 months the MCBP was operating, we found a great deal of similarity among the challenges facing journalists across Africa. After training close to 500 journalists and meeting with more than 100 editors, media outlet managers and representatives of media and civil society organisations, six challenges emerged as commonly identified by practitioners as impediments to reporting on climate change or getting their reports published:
· Editors’ lack of interest in or understanding of climate change
· Climate change being viewed as a slow process rather than a reportable event
· The ‘doom and gloom’ perception of climate change—that it is an unpopular topic that brings people down
· Difficulty accessing scientists who, when found, speak in jargon that is difficult to understand
· Dealing with disinformation and climate change deniers
· Dealing with censorship and limited access to information.
Responding to challenges: the teachings of the MCBP
Through our trainings we explored a variety of ways participants could get stories related to climate change written and published. One approach is to write about the climate dimensions of subjects on which coverage is already in high demand such as food prices or tourism, among many others. Another is to avoid the ‘switch off’ effect from editors and readers to stories about the potentially dire impacts of climate change by focusing on more hopeful stories of progress such as in the many adaptation efforts underway in Africa.
The first day of each workshop was devoted to studying the basics of climate change science to deepen our participants’ technical knowledge and their abilities to navigate among the credible and non-credible assertions that form the on-going climate debate.
We familiarised our participants with the national demographic, socio-economic, geographic and climatic information available through the open data websites of international development institutions such as The World Bank, the African Development Bank and UNDP, as well, of course, as the IPCC, among others.
More informed, more able to inform
Through exit surveys we have learned that participants feel the workshops have greatly increased their knowledge of climate change and opened their eyes to the opportunities to generate and publish climate articles. Those who attended the regional workshops were particularly enthusiastic about the opportunity to learn and share from their colleagues around the continent.
Many participants recounted their successes in using the story pitching techniques we proposed, saying these had led to an increase in their outlet’s coverage of climate change. No doubt, the convening of COP 17 in Durban last year has focussed the attention of many editors on the climate issue. Certainly, our own monitoring of online national news publications showed an increase of some 40% in the number of stories on climate change published in participating countries following our workshops.
Numerous participants also won or were shortlisted for international journalism awards, in some cases for stories arising out of MCBP workshop field trips.
In several countries, workshop participants were inspired to form associations or informal networks of journalists covering climate change. We believe this is helping to create a new generation of African journalists who are shifting the direction of the media in their countries to cover cross-cutting issues like climate change.
For a program of such short duration, we believe the MCBP has made a significant contribution to improving the capabilities of journalists to produce and publish stories on climate change and, through them, expand the opportunities of people throughout the 20 AAP countries to become better-informed on the anticipated effects of climate change on development and the role adaptation can and must play to help Africa pursue sustainable paths out of poverty.