Little strokes make big pictures: Covering climate change in South Asian media

Given the surfeit of media stories on climate in the build-up to the Copenhagen climate conference (7-18 Dec 2009), it would appear that journalists have little or no difficulty in covering this literally hot topic, right?

Wrong. The planet is warming, but not all editors and other media gate-keepers have yet warmed up to the topic. (We might even say: some are thawing more slowly than glaciers these days!).

“While environment is fast becoming a trendy topic, environmental journalists say they are finding it increasingly difficult to sell their stories to editors. This is a confounding trend in the news media, given the increasing confusion – and resultant calls for clarity – about scientific data for climate change in the run up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. The experts, however, say the trick is to repackage the story alluringly.”

Zofeen T Ebrahim

This is the thrust of an article just written by the experienced Pakistani journalist and blogger Zofeen T. Ebrahim on Dawn.com. In Little strokes make big pictures, she probes the challenges that South Asian journalists continue to face in reporting and analysing on climate change in their mainstream media.

Zofeen, who was with me at the recent IFEJ congress in New Delhi a few weeks ago, quotes me in her article: “Nalaka Gunawardene, a senior award-winning science writer from Sri Lanka, recalls that his mentor, Tarzie Vittachi, once advised that ‘ordinary people live and work in the day-to -day weather. Most can’t relate to long-term climate. It’s our job, as journalists, to make those links clear.’ Of course, three decades ago, well before climate change was a hot topic, Vittachi was speaking metaphorically. But the words have great import today.”

She also quotes South Asian colleagues like Kunda Dixit, Joydeep Gupta, Nirmal Ghosh and Aroosa Masroor Khan (all men, although they are among the finest in the profession :)).

Her conclusion: environmental stories may still be a hard sell in many media outlets, but committed journalists have found ways to market their stories first within their organisations, and then to their respective audiences. That is some good news as the crucial climate talks open in the cool climes of Copenhagen.

Read the full article: Little strokes make big pictures, by Zofeen T Ebrahim

Zofeen T. Ebrahim is a Karachi-based independent journalist and has been writing for IPS since April 2003. She also writes for Women’s Feature Service, IRIN and Indo Asian News Service. The stories she has covered include human rights, specially pertaining to women and children, health and how development impacts environment.

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