Lack of reporting by the mainstream media to report on the overarching effects of climate change and how it could go about was one of the discussion in a two-day workshop on “Climate Change, Solutions and the SDGs” which was organized by the UN in partnership with Journalists’ Association of Bhutan (JAB) , WWF Bhutan and ICIMOD at Paro earlier this week.
There was a general consensus that mainstream media has been reporting on issues of water shortage in both rural and urban, forest fires, unusual pattern in rainfall, crops being destroyed by wildlife, temperatures on rise, crops growing in high altitude, GLOF, landslides, emission, air pollution and many more but it failed to take into account that all these were effects of climate change and had bigger implications.
Questions asked in the workshop ranged from the role media play in influencing personal and national action to address climate change to how media has covered climate change so far and how such stories should be reported.
The workshop was attended by editors and reporters from print and broadcast media, social media influencers, film makers, photographers and bloggers who through their role shared views on how climate change can be combated.
Ugyen Penjore, Managing Editor with Kuensel said that media does cover climate change issues but we always focus on the negative side like GLOFs, storms and cyclones. “We do a lot of climate change related stories without mentioning climate change. For an example the stories of water shortage for both drinking and irrigation is related to climate change,” he said.
Ugyen Penjor said that in the past six months, Kuensel had carried just one front page article on climate change which was also based on a report.
Tenzin Lamsang, editor-in chief with The Bhutanese said that media houses are constantly writing on climate change such as droughts, flooding, unusual rainfall and how crops are moving to higher elevation. “Climate change might not be mentioned directly but it is always there indirectly whether it has to do with agriculture or infrastructure. Media does report,” he said.
Further, he said that private media in Bhutan is facing sustainability issues. “Because of this, reporters are not able to devote time and energy to cover enough climate change stories. They may not cover it the way that UN would like it to but they do cover it.”
Tenzin Lamsang feels that another major problem is lack of data. “We have International climate data but we can’t do a story just based on that, we don’t have local climate data which is a big challenge.
A journalist from Kuensel wanted to write a story on Thimphu experiencing July month as the hottest month over the past few years and she had gone to the National Center for Hydrology and Meteorology (NCHM) to ask for figures on temperature. The center had records of temperature for only the last 15 years and not beyond that. While for solar radiation and cryosphere the center had no records maintained.
Kezang Yangden, Program Director of Climate and Energy Practice, WWF Bhutan feels that not much of climate change stories or concerns are captured by the mainstream media. She believes that globally climate change as an issue, gained traction and media attention only after the Paris Agreement in 2015. The media attention has been very recent and could explain the inadequate coverage of climate stories in Bhutan.
Talking on how the media can do better in terms of climate change coverage, she said for the local media to provide better coverage and also provide articles with depth and substance, the media really needs to get a good understanding of climate change and climate action. “They need to understand and have knowledge on how climate change is intricately interlinked with nature and biodiversity. While, there is a lot of coverage on environmental issues and concerns in the country, the stories often fail to connect to climate change. It is understood that having a healthy ecosystem and nature is critical for addressing climate change and sustainable development,” she said.
She also mentioned that fair grasp of climate science will also help the media in asking the right questions that could inform public policy and decision making, and call for action from relevant agencies and by individuals.
She also said that awareness of what is happening globally around climate change could help frame stories and articles in the local context. “Also coverage need not be only about a climate story, it can be a well written article around policy, climate action or a climate project. And all stories need not be relevant. Some issues have to be made relevant by repeatedly highlighting it and giving it importance, which can be done by the media,” she added.
She said media plays an important role in keeping climate change issues and concerns in the forefront and help ‘’mainstream’’ climate action into the development policies and plans. “It has to be understood that climate change is real and even if we are able to reduce our emissions, we are still going to feel the brunt of already emitted emissions. Which means, we have to be prepared and that readiness has to be built in into our development. We, our economy, our infrastructure and the way we do things have to be adapted to climate change. Media can play an important role in bringing about that change at all levels,” Kezang Yangden said.
Dechen Dorji, Country Representative, WWF Bhutan said there needs to be a greater engagement of the local media by both the international and government agencies responsible for mainstreaming climate issues and opportunities within larger narrative of sustainable development.
The other area is the need for capacity building of local media professionals and cultivating critical mass of climate change reporters within the country.
UN Resident Coordinator Gerald Daly talking to Business Bhutan said that he believes there are some very good articles in Bhutanese newspapers on climate action. “Research around the world shows that when people are inspired to think about solutions they are more likely to take action and if a good newspaper article is able to help take action then I think that is a great newspaper article.”
“Another thing we can be mindful of is highlight CSOs doing good work; ordinary community based organizations are doing good in combating climate action. Let’s highlight those great stories that are happening in Bhutan. Climate change is not describing the problems but about knowing how long it has been going on and finding solutions in Bhutan and also from other countries,” he said.
Chencho Dema from Thimphu