Media and its approach to climate change

This article is an interactive discussion with Prof. Arul Aram, head of the department of media studies in Anna University TamilNadu.

(Prof. arul aram's linkedin page)

Media is regarded as one of the four pillars of the state. It carries an immense responsibility of being one of the parameters to determine where the country and its status stand in different aspects across the globe. Climate change is one of the inevitable facets of everybody’s life today and has wide coverage in news as well. No matter how small an impact is, it always makes its way to the news. The important aspect is how it is covered and disseminated to the general masses. The major aspect of covering climate change is addressing the real issues in a way that gives proper clarity and a perspective to the readers which can further allow them to be aware and sensitive enough to climate change action around them. In India, media coverage regarding climate change is now taken seriously as the effects of climate change in different places are observed at an extreme level and it raises alarms regarding the overall well-being of humankind. 

To have a clearer picture of how media, media academics, professionals, and researchers work in addressing climate change throughout India, Ms. Saroj from VOIS Planet interacted with Dr. Arul Aram, Professor and Department head of Media Studies, Anna University, Tamil Nadu. In the discussion, we came across many facets of covering climate change news or developing educational resources based on the climate change action that follows, guided practice in different regions depending upon the disaster or climate effects, it brings to the specific area. 

Is there a fallacy in conveying the climate change issue amongst the media?

The leading newspaper or English print media does a good job in covering the issues of climate change but when it comes to regional media or local media there seems to be some fallacy or confusion in the reporting pattern. Most media houses do not give a beat to climate issues and it somehow gets dissolved in the whole news circle. There is a lot of confusion regarding different aspects of climate change. Since it is not yet talked about variedly, most people are dependent on what is either being said in the local media with little knowledge or on a high-class scientific paper or findings through different sources. The knowledge from open source is vague and scattered and hence it is difficult to comprehend and make actual sense. Quite often it is observed that ozone layer depletion is seen concerning climate change. Not that they are very different, but there has to be more specific detailing and apt comprehension done of the subject matter. Hence, there is a fallacy in understanding the real issue. The scientists involved in the research of climate change should be able to simplify the knowledge for the media personnel and the researchers, working in the field of climate communication. So, the knowledge can reach a larger mass with ease. It would also help in preparing citizens for emergency or disaster situations and keep them well informed.

How is climate change disaster in the sensitive region addressed? 

All the large media houses and communication institutions are mostly based in metropolitan cities. This makes it easier for the people involved in the business to cover what is going on in bigger cities as most events take place either in the capital or cities. But nature has its way of showing up. It can have different climate effects in different regions. Similarly, few journalists would want or have the capacity to go into sensitive and marginalized areas to cover a story. These areas have fewer amenities in terms of technology and accessibility to basic networks, hence it gets challenging for anyone who would want to cover stories in such areas. However, most marginalized communities get hit the most by climate disasters and also have lesser means to deal with the consequences. But these are also the communities that have the highest climate resilience as they are fast in finding ways to cope with the extremities of climate change. The basic need in such a community is survival and subsistence, unlike in urban areas where, in addition to survival and subsistence, it is mostly about keeping up the comfort. Marginalized communities are vulnerable on many levels and have to make means to keep themselves alive. So, these people find ways to survive with whatever is available in the environment. 

Now, this whole attitude is something that everyone cannot be okay with. Hence, it needs a lot of self-motivation and drives to get into such a community and bring the real picture out. It is thrilling to see that some of the grassroots level NGOs and organizations like CSIR, TERI, and INGOs like WWF have been able to do a good job in sensitizing these communities regarding climate change. And sometimes these organizations also bring their story out in the form of research papers and case studies. Therefore, it would be great if these organizations could provide fellowship to media personnel who want to cover stories from such communities. For journalists, who want to take some time off from their regular jobs and explore opportunities to bring such stories, this type of fellowship is crucial for meaningful contribution to society and professional growth. While some organizations do provide such opportunities to media staff and media scholars, we need more of them.

What is the approach of the state regarding spreading the message of climate change issues?

The state has a way of looking at and approaching climate change issues. Amongst the government officials, they have an understanding that India has emerged as a soft power nation given its population and the size of the economy. So, there is so much to do on a larger scale. Hence, it is mostly the positive move or bigger announcements regarding certain provisions to tackle bigger disasters. And it also seems that there is limited understanding or sensitization among a substantial number of officials regarding the same. We have mostly seen the state talking about renewable energy or going carbon neutral by so and so time frame. But there are smaller issues like the extinction of certain species of fish in coastal areas due to climate-induced disasters, degradation of crops, migration of people due to such disasters, and an increase in the number of climate refugees. These are issues that affect the overall economy, growth, and sustainability of a nation. So, there is a need for a platform where these issues drive dialogues among small, mid, and higher-level government bodies. However, these days the dais is changing, and we can see a lot of middle-level officials coming in to participate in climate change panel discussions. This type of discussion among the bodies and educational institutions can initiate efforts to not only address climate change but also get help in preparing for the climate change issues.

The magic of transformation started in 2019 at the UN climate change summit Greta Thunberg’s speech, where she asked some quintessential questions to nations and asked everyone to be alert of what is coming. This incident inspired a lot of young people and today we have a lot of climate change activists amongst us. These young minds are the future and hence it is important to bring the right knowledge to light. The knowledge base for climate change action has to be well informed, preparatory, scientific, and sensitizing. The media here has a great role to play. 

We need more positive and proactive media institutions to successfully build a climate-aware community!

Note: Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr. Arul Aram. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the VOIS Planet

Written By:

Saroj Sharma

Saroj has an experience of over 9 years working in the development sector as a social worker, educator and an independent researcher. She has worked extensively with the marginalized community in India and Nepal. She is an avid reader and takes a profound interest in writing, preferably human stories.

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