How can a strong, independent media help us fight climate change?

How can a strong, independent media help us fight climate change?

Mis/disinformation will be “the most severe global risk” over the next two years, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report 2024. Environmental risks, the same report said, “could hit a point of no return” in the long run.

Over the last few years, the world has seen a proliferation of climate mis/disinformation campaigns, as big-tech companies continue to platform misleading climate information. Stop Funding Heat’s report in 2021 found that anywhere between 818,000 to 1.36 million people viewed climate misinformation every day across 48,700 posts put out by 195 pages and groups on Facebook. The report also said, “Climate misinformation is rampant on Facebook, while the platform directly receives thousands of dollars to place climate misinformation on its advertising platform.” Algorithms have moved on, but serious problems persist across all social media platforms.

These concerted efforts to de-rail the consensus on climate action pose a serious threat to a global climate resilience plan. According to UNESCO, “Misleading and false information about climate change can, in some cases, foster doubt and incredulity about environmental issues, their impact and urgency, and undermine international efforts to address them.”

As we celebrate the 31st World Press Freedom Day on 3rd May 2024, it stands as a reminder to continue to strive for strong, independent media around the world. First proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993 “as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom”, this year’s theme, “A Press for the Planet: Journalism in the face of the Environmental Crisis”, draws attention to the media’s pivotal role as an antidote to mis/disinformation and its negative impact on the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and air pollution. Climate mis/disinformation, according to a report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2022, can go as far as negatively influencing climate policy.

The situation begs a simple question. How can journalism help solve the dissonance between growing environmental concerns and increasing misinformation?

Here’s how we believe free press can help steer public opinion:

Informing audiences

In the context of climate change, by communicating climate science, archiving testimonies of affected communities and other fact-based scientific developments, the media can inform audiences. That is exactly what the COP26 Climate Summit inspired Gazeta Wyborcza to do. An iconic Polish daily, Gazeta Wyborcza decided to prioritize climate reporting in their coverage. Publishing more than 900 articles in one year under a self-proclaimed “Climate Declaration”, the newspaper’s aim was to “to talk better and more often than before about what is happening both in Poland and in the world in terms of ecology and climate”.

Acting as watchdogs

As many governments and conglomerates continue to work hand-in-glove around the world, the media keep a close eye on climate policy and practice, informing audiences about corrupt practices and wrongdoings that could affect their lives. In Guatemala, national investigative daily elPeriódico (now forced to close and its owner in jail for critical reporting) revealed a major fraud and corruption scheme related to the clean-up of pollution at Lake Amatitlán. When she was in office, Guatemala’s first female Vice-President Roxana Baldetti awarded a contract worth millions of dollars to an engineering firm to decontaminate the lake. ElPeriódico led coverage of the scandal, publishing an article revealing that the company would use an ineffective treatment – a solution of water, salt and chlorine – to clean the lake. The Vice-President was put on trial on fraud and influence-peddling charges, before being sentenced to 15 years and six months in jail for her role in what became known as the “Magic Water” scandal.

Providing a platform for multiple voices

An important role of the media is to give a platform to voices that are often ignored. By enabling climate scientists, vulnerable communities, campaigners and policy experts, the media sheds light on facts and perspectives that gets lost in information-controlled environments. In Chile, a chain of local news websites called MiVoz, in cooperation with the local municipality and the environmental initiative “It’s Now”, organized an online community event focused on the environmental situation in the arid region of Arica. The conversation brought together regional experts on a platform to discuss local social-environmental concerns. This event catalyzed multiple on-the-ground initiatives. It paved the way for the creation of a local environmental consortium which organized reforestation action of plaintive native trees close to a local river, along with securing important commitments from the regional administration.

Influencing behavior

Media holds the power to change attitudes and behaviours that can prompt mass public action that supports climate resilience. Digital news site GK reported on the construction of a fire station in Cajas National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve site, and how it was a threat to the fragile ecosystem. This led to the Court of Criminal Guarantees taking notice of the situation and halting the construction.

Building attention by innovative storytelling

With the rise of internet-based platforms, organizations now communicate human-interest stories through multimedia, innovative means such as videos, immersive storytelling, info-graphics, podcasts and games. These new forms of storytelling bridge the gap between factually accurate information and accessibility to ensure that stories reach wider audiences. Daily Maverick, a South-Africa based online outlet decided to galvanize global action in the face of the looming climate crisis by crafting a shareable anthem. Over 40 months, the team transformed the 1960s protest song “Eve of Destruction”, originally written to protest America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, into a contemporary call to arms. The result was a poignant and unsettling video, featuring the talents of Western Cape artist Anneli Kamfer alongside striking imagery sourced from Getty Images and Adobe Stock. With more than 1 million views, Daily Maverick’s rendition of the song serves as a stark reminder of the urgent climate crisis we face today. Additionally, Our Burning Planet, the outlet’s climate-focused unit, continues to cover the crisis in creative ways to help people understand the pressing reality of our planet’s plight.

Our clients and other independent media around the world continue to inform audiences about evolving scientific developments, expose actions that seek to undermine the climate agenda and inspire people by stories that help us all make informed decisions about planet – and we will continue to support them.