Caribbean journalists: ‘Shortfalls in climate reporting can be improved’

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This post was first published on Cari-Bois Environmental News Network (with the support of Climate Tracker and Open Society Foundations‘ Caribbean Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship) as part of a series aimed at giving Caribbean scientists, explorers and nature enthusiasts a platform to express themselves. A version of the article is republished below as part of a content-sharing agreement.

By Ronald Taylor

Tasked with the responsibility of providing information and analysis on current affairs to keep the public informed, media practitioners are commonly called society’s eyes and ears. So, when it comes to the climate crisis, Caribbean journalists have committed to providing adequate coverage of an issue that is intricately linked to the region’s stability and well-being.

As Small Island Developing States (SIDS), the Caribbean is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which include rising sea levels, more frequent and intense tropical cyclones, and prolonged droughts. Despite being one of the world’s regions most vulnerable to climate change, the Caribbean’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions is minuscule, putting the region in the position of experiencing the worst impacts of climate change without having caused them.

The predicament has led to growing calls for climate justice, which aims to address the unequal distribution of the costs and benefits of climate change mitigation and adaptation.

For their part, Caribbean journalists are finding it essential to report on these issues, and ensure those who play a greater role in causing climate change are held accountable. Their work also strives to amplify the voices of those most affected, and provide a platform for them to demand climate justice.

According to UNESCO, “three of the media’s traditional roles — informing audiences, acting as watchdogs, and campaigning on social issues — are especially relevant in the context of a changing climate.”

A few regional journalists shared their perspectives on the issue; here are some of the best takeaways:

Guyanese television reporter O’nieka Bacchus. Photo via Cari-Bois Environmental News Network, used with permission.

‘The media controls the narrative’

For more than five years now, Guyanese television reporter O’nielka Bacchus, who also holds a BSc in environmental studies, has been doing stories that show citizens how critical it is for them to be aware of climate change issues: “If people do not understand the value of environmental education, then why would they appreciate it?”

Noting that “The media controls narrative,” she explained: “It can influence people, it can educate people and the more information is put out there, the more people become aware of certain issues.”

One of the most challenging aspects of reporting in Guyana, Bacchus says, is accessing data from both government institutions and private organisations, which can be a setback, especially when doing environmental reporting. While environmental activists are usually available for interviews, balanced reporting also requires current statistics from government organisations.

Journalists must ‘connect the dots’

Belizean journalist André Habet. Photo via Cari-Bois Environmental News Network, used with permission.

Belizean journalist André Habet says it's up to journalists to clearly connect the dots of climate change in order for people to understand the scope of the crisis.

Noting that issues around climate change are often difficult for people who are not already involved in environmental work to understand, he believes journalists must “clarify those connections and demonstrate how enmeshed people and the environment are, especially in the case of stories on pro-capital projects that promise to boost economic well-being in exchange for environmental degradation.”

By producing comprehensive stories, Habet added, “Publications and journalists both expand their sense of what a climate justice story is — [it] doesn’t always have to be about a clear battle between communities and governments or corporations, but about more nuanced shifts in communities that may not be perceptible in a singular moment.”

Journalist Elvira Hernandez from the Dominican Republic. Photo via Cari-Bois Environmental News Network, used with permission.

‘Imperative’ to identify those responsible for environmental degradation

Elvira Hernandez, a multimedia journalist from the Dominican Republic, says that when it comes to reporting on the climate crisis, “It is necessary to identify the most felt needs of society,” since climate justice is essential to the critical landscape in which we live.

“It seeks due respect for the rights of environmental activists and redress for the most vulnerable countries for climate wrongs committed by more developed nations,” she says. “It is therefore imperative to address the climate crisis by identifying those responsible for environmental degradation.”

Not enough environmental coverage in the region

Guyanese journalist David Papannah. Photo via Cari-Bois Environmental News Network, used with permission.

Saying “It is not a topic that we as reporters dedicate attention to or focus on,” Guyanese journalist David Papannah believes there is a need for more reporting on climate issues throughout the Caribbean.

In his opinion, environmental reporting has only touched the surface and he would like to see more training opportunities for Caribbean journalists in specialised areas like climate education, suggesting that regional media associations, as well as environmental organisations and line ministries, can play an important role.

Marginalised communities are disproportionately affected

Surinamese journalist Priscilla Misiekaba-Kia. Photo via Cari-Bois Environmental News Network, used with permission.

In describing her experience reporting on climate change, Surinamese journalist Priscilla Misiekaba-Kia notes that “the unequal distribution of climate burdens and resources — within and between countries and social groups — is not easily visible.”

As a result, she thinks it is important to investigate how marginalised communities are often disproportionately affected by natural hazards like pollution and natural disasters. In some cases, there is also the unequal distribution of emergency aid from governments and humanitarian institutions.

In spelling out the disparities of the climate crisis, Misiekaba-Kia says that through reporters using their platforms to share information, marginalised communities can improve their resilience and disaster preparedness: “[Journalists] should explain [that] the climate crisis is urgent and requires immediate action. We should also bring a diversity of perspectives and voices to the conversation around climate change. They help give a boost to the voices of those who are most affected by climate change, including Indigenous communities and marginalised groups.”

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