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MEA Bulletin - Guest Article No. 40a - Thursday, 31 January 2008
Bridging the Climate-Change Media Divide on the Road to Copenhagen
By Mike Shanahan, IIED and Climate Change Media Partnership
Full Article

Hundreds of news-hungry journalists were among the ten thousand-plus people who gathered in Bali last December for the UN climate change conference.

But while the major international news agencies and Western media outlets were there in force, there was close to zero media representation from the countries most at risk from climate change.

The meeting was billed as the most important to date, but for hundreds of millions of people in low- and middle-income countries, there was virtually nobody there to interpret the developments and send relevant news back home.

This gap between people and policy occurs time and again at big meetings of UN conventions and at other major events such as G8 summits. Ordinary people in vulnerable communities are left in the dark while important decisions that will affect their lives are made.

To help fill the gap in Bali, three organisations — the International Institute for Environment and Development, Internews and Panos — joined forces to form the Climate Change Media Partnership and provide a programme of media support before, during and after the conference.

Our experiences show that it is possible to give a major boost to media coverage in developing nations of environmental issues and the intergovernmental negotiations aimed at addressing them.

In addition to sending more than 1,200 journalists in these countries new briefing papers on climate-change reporting and the UNFCCC processes, the Climate Change Media Partnership brought nearly 40 journalists from developing nations to Bali. They received daily briefings on the negotiations, access to experts and negotiators, and editorial support from the former BBC environment correspondent Alex Kirby.

Journalists in the South have rarely been trained to report on climate change and they lack access to information and expertise. It can take weeks to arrange interviews with researchers or government officials.

To counter this, we compiled and distributed a roster of experts from 50 organisations that would be in Bali and were willing to talk to the media. Once on the ground, we provided a matchmaking service, helping journalists to connect with key sources of information relevant to their audiences back home. The journalists met and interviewed negotiators, scientists, government ministers, NGO representatives and indigenous people.

We arranged a special briefing for the journalists with the UK Climate Change Minister Phil Woolas, and 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.

"The Climate Change Media Partnership has been a huge help to us," said Wambi Michael of the Voice of Teso radio station in Uganda. "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."

Without the partnership there would have been no journalists in Bali from countries including Burma, Jamaica, Kenya, Laos, the Philippines, Sudan and Uganda, making such countries reliant on reports from Western news outlets that were not in a position to provide much locally relevant information.

Unlike many media-support initiatives that involve workshop-based training alone, the journalists in Bali were both learning and doing, actively reporting from the conference on a daily basis. During the meeting, they produced an average of 18 stories for print, online, radio and TV outlets in their home countries.

"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."

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; and access to a tremendous pool of expertise on the various sectors involved."

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.

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. The Climate Change Media Partnership is seeking additional partners for the ongoing programme covering COP14 in Poznan and culminating with COP15 in Copenhagen.

The 2007 UNDP Human Development Report said: “The media have a critical role to play in informing and changing public opinion. Apart from their role in scrutinising government actions and holding policymakers to account, the media are the main source of information for the general public on climate change science.”

The same applies to each of the other critical environmental challenges that face the planet. The Climate Change Media Partnership has demonstrated an effective approach to boosting the ability of media in developing countries 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. We aim to consolidate this work and scale it up so that many more journalists benefit over the next two years on the road from Bali to Copenhagen.

For the Climate Change Media Partnership see:

To view interviews with some of the journalists in Bali see:

Mike Shanahan
IIED and Climate Change Media Partnership
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