Taking on the challenges of reporting climate change

When seasoned Samoan politician Fiame Naomi Mataafa walked into the Tanoa Tusitala Hotel on Monday morning, she was keen to leave her mark on the three-day proceedings of the 10th Asia Pacific Broadcasting Union’s Pacific Media Conference.

Samoa’s Acting Prime Minister and Deputy PM acknowledged the challenges that the media industries in the region continue to face – as they strive to provide what she described as “true, unbiased, substantial and relevant” news content to their listeners, viewers and readers – in the face of increasing challenges posed by social media and fake news.

The August 5-7 conference comprised formal conference sessions, showcases and practical workshops and had the theme “Safeguarding tomorrow: Building media sustainability in the Pacific”. It attracted broadcasters, journalists, editors and media trainers from Asia and the Pacific.

Last month the Acting PM, who is also the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, raised the issue of climate change at the Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia. 

And she used the opportunity on Monday to again draw attention to the issue, saying the subject is “very close to her heart”, and she is happy to see governments rallying and experts behind the science of climate change uniting.

But the response from the people to the calls for action is lacklustre and remains a major hurdle, which Fiame says should now compel broadcasters and the media generally to build the movement for change. 

“And one of the things that I wanted to take the opportunity while speaking with you this morning is that there is a quite good reporting globally on a really large issue, the bringing together of governments, science and so forth,” she said.

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“But more and more, I think the other message that is coming clearly for climate change response is the people’s response and I think your sector – media and broadcasting – I think there is a real opportunity to work collaboratively with other countries all over the world, to build that movement for people to take back the responsibility for our planet.”

The Acting and Deputy PM added: “And the story needs to be told, they need to be seen because this is one of the questions when the people hear about the Paris Agreement and who pulled out and who’s still there, and who won’t stop their meeting but will pay the money, all those sorts of things.”

Messages on climate change should be “deciphered”, according to Fiame, to enable the masses to understand the risks that are involved with climate change and the need for them to take immediate action.

“We need to be deciphering and bringing those messages down so that people do get the message, that we all have a responsibility in the response to climate change and its impact that is having on our lives and where we live. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the Pacific Islands or in the larger area of our region of Asia, Europe, Africa, America – we all experiencing impacts of climate change.”

The comments by Samoa’s Acting and Deputy PM to broadcasters and the media in the conference in Apia is a postmortem of how we in the media have performed in terms of reporting climate change, and whether our content is compelling enough for every man, woman and child to acknowledge the risks that lie ahead for their families and communities and take action in their own way.

While we take on board the challenge for news organisations to create content that is more compelling, in order to force change in human behaviour, we do acknowledge the need for individual media organisations to invest in skilled writers and specialist reporters. They would have the ability to extract the key messages in scientific papers and write stories that can cater for a large cross section of the community at the Government, business and grassroots level.

But not all media organisations in the Pacific Islands including Samoa have access to immediate capital and a large pool of writing or even broadcasting talent, hence the significance of forming partnerships with donor partners and important regional stakeholders in the climate change debate such as the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). 

A lot of media organisations have in-house training programmes for their staff and just need the tools and a crash course in identifying the issues and how the core messages can be simplified for our readers, viewers and listeners.

Have a lovely Wednesday Samoa and God bless. 

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