When Climate Change Hits the News

This is not going to be about President Trump withdrawing the US from the Paris Climate Agreement and what impacts this will have on all of us. Instead I have chosen to focus on responsible media and what constitutes “news”.

According to Oxford Online Dictionaries, "news" is defined as "newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent events" as in "I have got some good news for you".

I had the pleasure of attending a recent panel discussion hosted by the Responsible Media Forum. The particular topic of the panel discussion was "Simplify… and exaggerate" and the panel participants were all editors from respectable news sources. In discussing the question on what gets reported, it was stated that they communicate what their customers (i.e. us) are interested in and also, what is entertaining.

However, media also has considerable influence on people’s opinions. Media is not just a mirror or reflector of what is happening in the world, but is actually also a mover in society. This gives media a great power and with great power comes great responsibility – ask Spiderman!

This leads me to the core of this blog, given the subjectivity over what is "newsworthy" news, what is the role of responsible media and how should the media best utilise their powers of influencing.

To me reporting also needs to include an element of "for the public good" and indeed this question emerged from other members of the audience too. What about raising awareness on topics that are in the interest of (or, according to me should be in the interest of!) the public?

I am thinking specifically of climate change. Climate change and the closely related subject of sustainability are "old" ideas. The broad political concept of sustainable development, as developed by the Brundtland Commission, dates back to 1987, and scientists argued already in the late 19th century that human emissions of greenhouse gases could change the climate. With this perspective, climate change is, per definition, not news.

Whether it is new News or not, my view is that media have the responsibility to report on topics that are also in the interest of their consumers and the greater good. They do have the power to raise awareness on specific issues and should use this in a responsible way, especially when it comes to the biggest challenges humanity has ever faced, where the future of our children is dependent on our actions today.

Before President Trump’s announcement (and the build-up he created for it), climate change was not news. Not in the UK at least, not even in the reporting on the upcoming elections, mainly because the candidates seem to have forgotten about climate change. Although there is, I believe, awareness of climate change, there is, a lack of awareness on what can be done to combat climate change and the urgency of these actions. Not long ago I spoke to a man who didn’t know what the Paris Agreement was (now, he probably does!). Not totally surprising though, as the media have not covered it much.

The same goes for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Only 10% of people in the UK know what the SDGs are! A recent cross-party report highlights this issue and indeed recommends:

"The Government should work with the BBC and other national media to launch a national campaign to raise public awareness of the Goals, and provide the public with ways to get involved and make a contribution."

Responsible media should therefore, as part of their responsibility to include information which is in the public interest and even if it is not new News, talk more about climate change. There is an opportunity to keep the momentum from recent events, Trump has unwittingly created a lot more awareness and pushed further commitment from countries, some US states and businesses alike.

Media should keep raising awareness, ask politicians the difficult questions, hold them accountable and go a step further educating the public what actions they can take to do their part to reduce our impact on the climate. Our and our children’s future depend on it. Maybe then our politicians might talk about it too?

Sources of information:

Responsible Media Forum (2017). Mirrors or Movers V.

UNGC-UK: Making the Global Goals Local Business (presentation)

House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (2017). Sustainable Development Goals in the UK.

#climatechange #sustainability #responsibility

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