No doubt, communities need information on climate change. Good reporting on global warming is becoming increasingly important, especially for the developing world that has fragile economies and the vulnerable poor.
Climate change has captured the attention of the international community and the public at large to an unprecedented degree. Its impacts range from effects on agriculture to endangering food security, to rising sea-levels and accelerated erosion of coastal zones, increasing intensity of natural disasters, species extinction and the spread of vector-borne diseases.
More and more, our lives are getting affected by the ever changing and unpredictable weather conditions. The developing world need to think about climate change, consider its impact on the environment, and deal with the problem. Communities need well informed science journalists who can report accurately and impartially on the impact of science on the society and across the world yet the subject is hardly covered by media in the global economic South.
Throughout the 1990s, the media in the developing world was at the forefront of reporting on the devastation brought by the El Nino rains, and bringing the issue of global climate change - and its impact on the local economy - into sharp focus.
The extensive coverage provided farmers and rural communities with a scientific explanation for the dramatic weather changes that they had been witnessing in recent years.
But while such high-profile occurrences captured the public imagination and generated intense debates on the impacts of environmental degradation on people&rsquot;s day-to-day lives, the momentum generated was not sustained.
The topic of climate change that has captured the attention of the world for almost a decade [2000s], especially the developed nations, though they are culpable as major contributors to global warming, is not getting adequate attention in the media in the south.
The media has continued to focus on the &lsquot;big&rsquot; stories such as deaths from drought, or the destruction caused by floods, with little information being provided on how to cope with the effects of climate-related changes.
Climate change is a relatively new concept within African media. Few journalists - or even editors, who are the gatekeepers of stories that go on air or into print - have a clear grasp of the science behind this phenomenon. On many occasions, science-oriented stories, as well as those covering forestry, agriculture, and climate change, get ‘spiked’. Publishers prefer stories about crime, violence and political scandal because this is what &lsquot;sells.&rsquot;
Yet above all, what farmers and rural communities require for mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change, is access to information.
Farmers need to know whether the changing circumstances in which they grow their plants or raise their animals is merely a question of variability or a permanent change to weather patterns. Communities across the south also need channels through which they can share information on strategies that have worked well for them, and to adapt such techniques to their own circumstances, whenever possible.
Beyond sharing practical experiences, civil society organizations in the South need to discuss how best to exploit international support available through such instruments as the Kyoto Protocol&rsquot;s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), while continuing to debate amongst ourselves whether these approaches to emissions reductions are in their best interest.
The media - television, radio, print and online - naturally have a vital role to play in such debates, and yet there is a dearth of coverage of science issues in the developing world. A survey by the London-based NGO, Panos, of 47 journalists and from Jamaica, Zambia, Honduras and Sri Lanka in 2006 found considerable frustration amongst media professionals, with what they felt was a severe lack of interest by editors.
Media owners are often concerned about short-term profits and may be unwilling to criticize industry, or offend advertisers. As many of the media houses operate on shoestring budgets, they often do not have adequate resources to undertake thorough investigation of climate-related stories.
Illiteracy too can be an obstacle to awareness, although the creation of online image banks of photographs and diagrams could help to convey the impacts of various facets of science.
There is also a need to build bridges between scientists and journalists. Scientists are often unwilling to simplify their research findings for a lay audience, so journalists have to sharpen their skills to simplify jargon heavy scientific content and make the subject more relevant and easier to understand.
We journalists too can do much to help ourselves. We can set up networks in order to share information. The Kenya Environment and Science Journalists Association (KENSJA) is a good example.
We also need to build bridges between the developed and developing environment and science journalists so that we can exchange ideas and information.
Lack of pulling together-everyone with a stake in this problem - journalists, editors and publishers, NGOs, policy makers and funders, and of course the people of the developing world is not helping to fill this grievous information gap. We need to do that.