Reporting climate injustice

Local advocacy practices need to improve and reform to achieve climate justice

Reporting climate injustice


eing among the countries most affected in the world by climate change, Pakistan is facing problems caused by a variety of internal and external drivers. A study titled Advocacy journalism and climate justice in a Global Southern country was published last month in the Local Environment journal. The study was conducted by a team of Pakistani science communication practitioners, including the authors of this article.

The researchers analysed 5,712 editorials from six Urdu and English newspapers published between the years 2015 and 2016. Given nearly equal coverage by both Urdu and English language newspapers, it found that only 101 editorials (1.8 percent) were published to advocate interventions against local and regional climate injustice. The researchers noted that local advocacy journalism practices lacked both in terms of quantity and quality of content to achieve climate justice for the country. The contemporary global journalism frames poverty, food security, urbanisation, overpopulation, Kashmir conflict and public health issues in a rapid climate change paradigm. However, very few editorials in Pakistani papers were found following this practice while advocating any of these issues.

The study found that editorial priorities in Urdu as well as English language newspapers with regard to local threats to environment are mostly disordered. As such they often leave misleading impressions on the readers. For instance, according to the latest national greenhouse gases inventory, the highest national GHG contributor is the fossil fuel-based energy sector with a 45.9 percent share. However, this received the third least editorial attention, followed by agriculture and livestock sector that accounted for 44.8 percent GHG share, which astonishingly received the least editorial priority. Deforestation-related issues, which have a 2.6 percent share, meanwhile received the highest number of supportive mentions in the editorials. The dangerous levels of air pollution taking the highest death toll in the world in 2015 (killing around 135,000 people annually in Pakistan) received almost half of the attention compared to the mangrove forests threat. Likewise, despite having strong scientific evidence regarding the role of rapid population growth in environmental degradation in the country, the population-climate change threat received almost negligible attention.

Researchers noted that local advocacy journalism practices lacked both in terms of quantity and quality of content to achieve climate justice for the country.

The results reveal an editorial inability among mainstream Pakistani newspapers in terms of their support for energy projects and scant advocacy for clean energy solutions. In fact, the most supported and editorially advocated energy solutions were natural gas-based projects, despite the expert view that they are as harmful to the environment as coal. Among energy solutions, the Pak-Iran gas pipeline, Qatar LNG deal, the CPEC coal power plants and the TAPI gas pipeline projects were the most advocated solutions.

Both Urdu and English language newspapers advocated some of the dirtiest energy solutions, possibly owing to the government support for those.

This analysis of contemporary print media practices points to a violation of the normative spirit of advocacy journalism – the idea that advocate-journalist should represent the voiceless ordinary citizens and safeguard the public interest.

This study concludes that civic advocacy groups can play a vital role in helping plug the policy gaps by (1) perusing scientific studies on environmental issues from the academic community; (2) communicating their findings to the media outlets, particularly to the advocate-journalists; (3) organising reporting and editorial staff training workshops on how to use such findings to effectively influence environmental policymaking process; (4) sharing with the academic journalism community to ensure necessary amendments in relevant journalism course contents for future journalists; and (5) persuading editors to provide enough room for climate change issues.

Dr Muhammad Ittefaq is an assistant professor at the School of Communication Studies at James Madison University, Virginia, United States Email: Twitter: @IttefaqM

Dr Shafiq Ahmad Kamboh is an assistant professor in the School of Communication Studies at University of the Punjab. Lahore, Pakistan Email:  Twitter: @ShafiqAKamboh

Reporting climate injustice