The media is believed to play a pivotal role in the current global discourse on climate change and environment. Trends over the last few years show that the environment has been reported consistently for less than 2% of the prime time in television news. And it is definitely not a front-page priority for our newspapers.
Recently, however, we have seen a visible increase in the number and scope of environment stories across media. An analysis of CMS Media Lab of prime time news of six national and popular news channels supports this conclusion, as we see sudden spikes in environment and climate change coverage.
We have also seen special initiatives and campaigns by news channels highlighting climate change, such as the NDTV green campaign. Also, special programmes and discussions on environmental issues are more visible in non-prime time TV slots throughout the day. Newspapers have had occasional environment stories on the front pages, but significant space and columns for these issues are now noticeable on the inside pages of most newspapers.
The prime reason for this attention is the various initiatives and efforts being made to highlight environment/climate change issues across the globe in view of the approaching Copenhagen discussions on climate change. With these crucial negotiations as the backdrop, a number of international and national bodies are organizing events, report releases, field trips and campaigns.
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An important endeavour globally and in India is to prepare journalists for more comprehensive coverage on critical environmental issues for Copenhagen and beyond. One such initiative was the International Federation of Environmental Journalist congress held along with the CMS Vatavaran environment and wildlife film festival in the last week of October in New Delhi.
Environment journalists from across the world and India attended to learn about complex issues such as glaciers, Delhi’s Bus Rapid Transit System, climate change, the politics of green economies, global warming, and so on.
There were scientists, experts and also some officials who talked with media professionals, besides sharing views with each other. Then, some journalists also travelled to the Khardungla pass, which was 18,000 ft. high, to witness the decline of a glacier, which was the primary source of water to Leh.
Graphics: Sandeep Bhatnagar / Mint
These are attempts to make environment a consistent and comprehensive issue of interest for media professionals. These efforts are also being made so that environment and climate change can become an integral part of the daily media repertoire, beyond the current event-based reporting on these subjects.
The Copenhagen summit has flagged climate change as the biggest concern of the 21st century, affecting societies, economies and individuals on a grand scale. Equally enormous are the adjustments that will have to be made to our energy and transportation systems, economies and societies, if we are to mitigate climate change. Therefore, today, environment and climate change are also a political, business, science, human rights, energy and technology story.
The Indian challenge is to engage and empower the Indian language, regional and local media to participate in the lifestyle-change discourse for the benefit of their vast and diverse audiences. Besides individual and family lifestyle change issues, there are critical regional and local development issues needing readjustment and alignment with the National Action Plan for Climate Change.
How does this adjustment happen from the district level upwards? Who are its regional and local champions? What is the role of panchayati raj bodies in this adjustment planning and implementation? There are a host of such vexing questions needing answers. They are all headline-worthy, not merely as a noble media concern, but also from the media’s own commercial interests. Therefore, this current media attention to environment and climate change issues has to go beyond symbolism and be sustained beyond events such as the Copenhagen talks.
P.N. Vasanti is director of New Delhi-based multidisciplinary research organization Centre for Media Studies. Your comments and feedback on this column, which runs every other Friday, are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org