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The complexities and technicalities of climate change issues put off many news professionals. For this reason, even important global events such as the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which was held in Durban from 28 November to 9 December, do not get sufficient media attention.

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During the summit, the world agreed to a new global climate change regime that will take force starting in 2020. The principle of equity found its place and developing countries like India got a breather from universally binding restrictions that were being pushed by the European Union. This summit, also known as COP 17 (COP for conference of parties), saw India emerge as a leader and a voice of developing nations. It also had the backing of China in these critical negotiations, with significant implications for global trade practices.

Perhaps this was also the reason why it was mainly the business and economic publications in India that took the lead in covering the conference. A CMS Media Lab analysis of 34 Indian newspapers, for the period from 21 November to 20 December, showed that the coverage was maximum in The Economic Times, The Times of India and Business Standard. Hindustan Times, The Financial Express, The Statesman, Mint and Business Line also had significant coverage, including editorials and expert columns. Among Hindi dailies, Dainik Jagran took the lead followed by Dainik Bhaskar and Jansatta. Mainstream dailies such as the The Indian Express and The Hindu had minimal coverage.

Similarly, an analysis of six national news channels (DD News, Aaj Tak, NDTV 24X7, Star News, Zee News and CNN-IBN) during prime time (7pm to 11pm) from 21 November to 17 December pointed to skewed coverage. DD News aired the maximum of 18 stories on the conference. CNN IBN, Aaj Tak and NDTV 24x7 had few stories while Zee News aired only a single story on the conference. On the other hand, Star News did not to cover the conference during this period. Overall, Indian news channels gave less importance to the Durban conference compared with the Copenhagen summit held in December 2009.

The coverage of Indian newspapers, especially English newspapers, was far better than that of the news channels. In fact, newspapers published a significant number of analytical articles, editorials and features on the Durban conference. Despite predictions that the climate talks would fail to achieve the desired goals, the reporting by newspapers was fair and unbiased.

The lack of interest in summit coverage by news channels could be attributed to various factors. Within the country, preoccupation with the corruption campaign led by activist Anna Hazare and the subsequent deadlock in Parliament on the Lokpal Bill was one reason.

Also, it had been broadly speculated before the summit that nothing constructive would emerge from the talks. Unlike during the Copenhagen conference, when the US played a highly controversial role, in Durban there weren’t any controversies to arouse media excitement.

Finally, one-time events like the Durban conference don’t figure high among the priorities of media currently. Therefore it’s not surprising to see coverage of these meetings decline from earlier years—not just in Indian but even in global media.

However, climate change issues are not going to go away and in fact are becoming more important by the day. For example, in 2010 global emissions of greenhouse gases increased by 6% from the previous year. This is greatest one-year increase in history. The repercussions of such trends are felt beyond changes in the temperature and fluctuating weather trends.

Clearly, reporting on climate change issues presents a challenge to media professionals and organizations. This is where several civil society groups and UN organizations are stepping in to provide support to journalists to explain both the scienctific aspects and implications of such trends. Such support includes briefing sessions, field visits and fellowships for in-depth study of climate change issues.

Given the array of competing news stories vying for coverage, for more sustained reportage on climate change, editorial support and responsibility is critical.

However, for journalists looking for stories beyond the press releases and briefings, climate change and global warming as issues hardly lack news value. One has to only look around to realize it’s an unfolding story—rich in detail, drama and, potentially, impending tragedy.

Also Read |P.N. Vasanti’s earlier articles

P.N. Vasanti is director of New Delhi-based multidisciplinary research organization Centre for Media Studies (CMS). She also heads the CMS Academy of Communication and Convergence Studies.

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