Politics over climate change? Any day

September 25, 2022

Mainstream television media’s role in raising awareness regarding floods and the ongoing climate crisis was missing. These have never been a priority

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akistan has once again suffered a horrible spell of torrential rains, followed by a terrifying flood that has affected millions of people in Balochistan, Sindh, Gilgit-Baltistan, the Punjab, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, claiming 1,061 lives, injuring over 1,600 people and totally or partially destroying one million houses. But mainstream television media’s role in raising timely awareness and facilitating preparedness for potential catastrophe was again missing. This has never been a priority for many news outlets. Instead, broadcast news, it seems, is more interested in covering political tussles than the obvious dangers to the country’s population and land.

When heavy downpours and floods were sweeping away lives, livestock and property of a-third of Pakistan, the media was covering the political tussle between the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). The mainstream media’s priority was the issue of bail of PTI’s Shahbaz Gill. When a third of Pakistan’s land was under water, Imran Khan, Shahbaz Gill and other political leaders were being splashed across TV screens and making headlines. The media did not bother to report on the growing threat of a deluge. After failing to educate the people of Pakistan about flood threats, it again failed to highlight the miseries of the flood victims.

Many media houses continue to show inadequate appreciation of the gravity of the situation. Pakistan still has to suffer long-term financial instability in the wake of the already existing crunch, followed by a capital loss of over $10 million.

Some TV news channels showed flood-related damage and relief activities of their choice, either to attack a political party or support the other as per their liking.

The media also failed to inform the people, the government and the international community about the link between floods and global warming. Front pages of most newspapers and TV channels’ news bulletins allocated more space to Shahbaz Gill’s bail in the beginning and continued with Imran Khan’s cases when the flood and rains were hammering people. This indicates either that the media was more interested in partisan politics than human misery or that it lacked an idea of the scale of destruction caused by these floods.

When heavy downpours and floods were sweeping away lives, livestock and property of one-third of Pakistan, the media was largely covering the political tussle between the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.

Considering the scale of the devastation, the broadcast news coverage of the flood was meager. Most current affairs shows were based on politics than the ongoing catastrophe. Geo’s Hamid Mir and a few other TV anchors from other channels, at last, went out and highlighted the misery of the affected people and did multiple programmes from the field to help rehabilitate the victims.

In the 1990s, during the print media era, environmental issues and extreme weather conditions were covered regularly by national dailies, especially the English ones. However, currently, when global warming and climate-fuelled disaster like floods and melting glaciers need more coverage to educate the people about the environmental threats, the coverage has hit bottom. Yearly round-ups of media monitoring, conducted by various organisations reveal that environment and extreme weather conditions are still not on broadcast media’s priority list in Pakistan. Maximum TV time is dedicated to politics, glamour and comedy shows.

A recently published study revealed that Pakistan’s floods were likely made worse by global warming. This view was also endorsed by the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres during his trip to Pakistan. He said, “Humanity has declared a war on Nature and Nature is striking back. Nature is blind and it is not striking back at those who have contributed more to the war on Nature.”

“It’s like Nature has attacked the wrong targets. It should be those that are more responsible for climate change that should have to face this kind of challenge.”

Extreme climate changes are mainly caused by the fossil fuel industry that emits tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere. It also pollutes land, air and water globally. The rich nations are reluctant to make an immediate shift away from the fossil fuel economy. At the same time, they are not ready to provide countries like Pakistan – which with a population of about 220 million is contributing less than 1 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions, yet is among the top 10 countries vulnerable to climate change – with adequate resources to counter the harmful effects of climate change and industrial pollution.

The national and regional broadcast media of Pakistan must consistently educate viewers about climate change. The news channels should allocate air time for this purpose. TV media is more effective than print media in Pakistan as it reaches those who can’t read or buy newspapers – and hence, has a greater responsibility during the ongoing catastrophe.

The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. He tweets at BukhariMubasher

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