Forum: Journalistic Reporting on Climate Change

KUALA LUMPUR: The School of Media, Languages and Cultures, in collaboration with UNESCO and Universiti Sains, Malaysia jointly organised the forum to help build the ability among journalism educators and potential journalists to create holistic reports on climate change and a sustainable future.

The speakers were from different parts of the world, namely Thailand, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nepal, China, New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and our very own Malaysia. All of them shared one common goal – to make journalistic reporting of the news of climate change and sustainable development better. The forum was held on November 8th at the Pullman Kuala Lumpur City Hotel and Residences.

Objective Journalism

The opening speech by Head of SMLC Dr. Joanne Lim highlighted the disasters and negligence committed by mankind towards the environment. This creates uncertainties for the policy makers who try to shape the future.

Men argue. Nature acts.

We can speak, so can Mother Earth.

The Earth is speaking to mankind in every language. The question is whether we are really listening

– Voltaire

According to Lim, the hard-hitting reality is that issues like measuring carbon footprints still do not make headline news and for that we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Objective journalism could be one of the many solutions for better reporting of such news. This involves collectively assimilating, collating and disseminating the truth as it is delivered to us. It is crucial to make editorial judgments based on facts rather than hunches and present them in a way that illuminates the truth.

Set personal views aside and do your best job. We should ask no less of journalists.

– Dr. Joanne Lim, Head of School of Media, Languages and Cultures

Making of News Based on Truth and Evidence

Environmental disasters see no political divisions and the calamities of such disasters stretch across countries. More often than not, the facts and the reason behind the incident is reported differently in different parts of the world.

With international cooperation, we work together and thus, knowledge is generated. How we engage with the media, collaborative understanding and responsible journalism will make or break the problem of ineffective news reporting

– Dr. Shahbaz Khan, Director and Representative of UNESCO Office, Jakarta

The power of journalism lies in creating news with solid evidence. Influential organisations such as UNESCO provide interdisciplinary approaches and it acts as a platform for a number of programmes that are related to environmental journalism. By offering such programmes, it sets standards and rules to follow in a tricky area of work, nurturing education, research and capacity building. It is essential that data travels across boundaries for the facts to remain true and uniform.

How to Not Kill Your Story

When appealing to a larger audience, it is important not to use scientific jargon. 

Kyoto Protocol and Carbon Footprint, according to the audience sounded like names of popular rock bands.

– Ms Sim Leoi Leoi, Author, The Star Online


It is advisable to base the story on a specific topic, rather than trying to cover a whole wide range of a problem and the reader loses interest. For example, instead of covering deforestation as a whole, one could focus on the Orang Asli protests against the felling of trees in their villages which is a much more interesting story as there is a presence of a storyteller.

When content has character, face and a video, people relate to it better and this increases the reach of the news.

When you google climate change and global warming, you get 200 billion hits. When you google biodiversity loss, you get 50 million hits

Simplicity, Effect and Encouragement

Every time we write about recurring issues, it is important to deliver simple, true and new news. To a general audience, simple messages are the most powerful. A new story is proactive and does not focus entirely on the negative effects and disasters as this creates a feeling of helplessness among people.

Just because it is difficult, it does not mean you are failing

– Dr. Roderick Lamberts, Deputy Director of Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science

The most essential rules for this are clarifying one’s goals and problems and seeking the opinion of others. It is always wise to get opinions and a different standpoint. This helps the writer to articulate news effectively. Effective communication is not easy; to identify behaviour, attitude and its effect on people after learning the news are key things in encouraging action amongst people.

The HOPE Model of News Reporting

Dr. Jessada Salathong explores the Holistic, Future Oriented, Participatory and Empowering (HOPE) method of reporting news that is ‘sexy’ and sells. Through climate change content analysis, news topics such as climate change and global warming are found to resonate with the audience if they felt like they could make a difference.

Using scientific jargon creates a distance between the news and the audience, making it inefficient

Holistic approach – Who is affected (Environment, Economy, Society) and how they are affected (global disasters, economic failures, unrest in society).

Future-Oriented – Show whether the news has short, medium or long term effects spreading over days, years, decades or even generations.

Participation and Engagement – Suggesting and engaging the audience on how to solve the problem

Empowerment – Delivering new and up-to-date  content, creating awareness and educating people on the basic information helps news reach further.

Always choose micro over macro.

‘If I don’t do anything, it’ll affect my family and income’

It is the context that says many, many stories that touch the hearts of audience

Following these approaches could make HOPEful or HOPEless news!

Written by Samudhra Sendhil

"They say that great minds think alike, but also fools seldom differ"

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