10.01.2014 - Communication & Information Sector

UNESCO publishes climate change guidebook for African journalists

Farmers Aissat Abduljub and Habiba Wellba show Senegalese singer Baaba Maal their failed crops. The maize has gone dry and is inedible. © Pablo Tosco/Oxfam International

African media can and should do more to tell the story of climate change, observes a new UNESCO publication, titled Climate Change in Africa: A Guidebook for Journalists. “This guidebook is part of UNESCO’s overall effort to raise awareness of the interdisciplinary core of climate change, and how journalists can reflect that in their practices”, says Fackson Banda, UNESCO programme specialist responsible for the project and editor of the publication.

“At the heart of this publication is a push for the type of climate expertise needed to resonate with African journalists and journalism educators – two important constituents for our work on capacity-building for specialized journalistic literacies,” Fackson adds.

The guidebook is written by four media experts who linked climate change and journalistic practice within the context of African realities. They are Mike Shanahan and Teresa Corcoran of the International Institute for Environment and Development, and Willie Shubert and Cameron Scherer of Internews/Earth Journalism Network.

Mike Shanahan, lead author of the guidebook, says that “climate change is not the story – it is the context in which so many other stories will unfold.”

He argues that climate change “… will affect every beat of journalism, from politics and business reporting to consumer and health stories. African journalists and their editors should not see climate change as ‘just an environment’ issue but as a new reality that will create growing demand from audiences for comprehensive, clear and locally-relevant coverage.”

Speaking about why Internews was involved in the book, James Fahn, Executive Director of Internews’ Earth Journalism Network, says: “The great challenge for journalists is to learn how to turn this global issue into a local story their audiences can relate to … or rather, how to turn it into many stories. The all-encompassing nature of climate change lends itself to reporting from a multitude of angles, reflecting its impact on so many facets of society, the economy and life in general.”

Leading up to the publication was a workshop held in Kenya, at which 23 African experts, including academics and journalists, took time to review the initial draft of the guidebook. Namibian journalism educator, Emily Brown, highlighted how the media in her country tended to bury climate change and environmental stories in the back pages, and urged journalists to take part in re-setting the agenda.   

Bonny Alams, contributing to the discussion as a Nigerian journalist, noted: “For us to achieve [such] reportage, we must work to change people’s perception of the daily consumption of what Nigerians refer to us ‘juicy’ stories that revolve under political, economic and social life”.

Prof Workineh Kelbessa of Addis Ababa University stressed issues of ethics and environmental justice as part of the interdisciplinary core of climate change journalism. He emphasized the need to correlate the environment and humanity, and said that the manuscript needed to reflect the link between indigenous knowledge and science.

Held from 22 to 23 October at the UN Complex in Gigiri, Kenya, the workshop brought together participants from Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The finalised guidebook is an information resource to be used in both the newsroom and classroom, and will be distributed in a strategic partnership involving UNESCO, IIED and Internews.

A series of Google Hangouts will be spread out across the whole of February to raise interest amongst African journalists and others interested in a deeper understanding of reporting climate change prevention and mitigation.

Within UNESCO, the guidebook scores a first: it is one of the first two publications to be published under the Organization’s new Open Access policy. This means that users of this publication have terms for use and re-use of the publication, as spelled out in the UNESCO Open Access Repository.

To download Climate change in Africa: a guidebook for journalists click here.




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