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 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.

Tata Young: Singing up a storm for the Ozone Layer

Tata Young - photo by Nirmal Ghosh
Tata Young - photo by Nirmal Ghosh
“Tata Young sings up a storm for Ozone Layer.”

That was a headline in the Bangkok Post newspaper on 8 October 2009, while I was in Thailand for the Ozone Media Roundtable. My friends at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) were ecstatic.

Tata Young, 28, is a Thai-American singer, model and actress who is one of the best known performers in Thailand, with a growing following across Southeast Asia. Last week, she was among the performers at the “What on Earth!” concert in Bangkok, part of the EU Green Days event to coincide with the latest round of negotiations of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UN-FCCC.

Tata is the latest Asian entertainment celebrity to join the climate bandwagon. Inside the UN Convention Centre in Bangkok, the climate negotiations were making slow progress. Environmental activists and campaigners were trying every trick in their books to speed things up — but governments bickered over selfish interests even as the planet heated up.

Tata’s newest album, Ready for Love, has its cover printed on recycled paper and sports a sticker that says “Protect the Ozone Layer”. Her interest in campaigning for ozone was sparked when she donated her time filming an ozone related public service announcement for UNEP last year.

The PSA is one of four that UNEP’s ozone team in Asia produced in 2008 as part of their public awareness campaign. They all draw attention to an important date that is drawing close: by or before 1 January 2010, all consumption and production of chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, one of the main destroyers of the ozone layer would be phased out in all countries of the world. That is a significant achievement under the Montreal Protocol that nations of the world adopted in 1987 to save the endangered ozone layer.

The PSAs started screening in movie theatres in the Philippines earlier this year, to be followed by Thailand and other countries in the region.

Watch Tata Young’s ozone PSA for UNEP:

In June this year, talking to journalist Nirmal Ghosh, Tata Young said: “It’s important that people are aware of the little things you can do to protect our world, are aware (of ozone) and know what’s going on, especially because unlike garbage and other types of pollution, you can’t see the ozone layer.”

Read the full text on Nirmal’s blog: More Than Just Hot Air, 4 June 2009

Tata is now singing and speaking for the ozone layer on her own steam. Unlike some other UN agencies, UNEP does not have a formal goodwill ambassador programme. But she has de facto become one.

Full credit to her for this choice. After all, the Ozone Layer – located between 10 and 50 kilometres above the Earth, and invisible to the naked eye – is not something tangible like cuddly animals or endangered plants. Moving ordinary people to care for something they can’t see or touch is that much harder, even if all life on Earth depends critically on it (the Ozone Layer absorbs most of the Sun’s harmful ultra-violet days).

Tata used to hit the headlines in Thailand for some songs which were considered a little too ‘hot’ for the conservative guardians of culture. But looking at the less-than-glacial pace kept by climate change talks in Bangkok, perhaps activists should roll out Tata Young to turn on the heat…