Article in ‘Silliman Journal’ Urges Media to Link Climate with Biodiversity

Article in ‘Silliman Journal’ Urges Media to Link Climate with Biodiversity

Communication researchers from the University of the Philippines-Los Baños said media ought to do a better job in handling news on climate change by linking it with biodiversity loss and land degradation and making a louder call to action against these issues.

“The media are increasingly being encouraged to create a balance in (reporting) climate change and other environmental concerns because they are intertwined and how these issues are being reported influences how they are understood by the public,”wrote UPLB associate professor Serlie Barroga-Jamias and Dhanicca Amor M. Domingo in the latest issue of the Silliman Journal.

The researchers said three United Nations conventions stress the importance of integrating the biodiversity agenda with that of climate change and land degradation: Convention on Biological Diversity,UN Convention to Combat Desertification, and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“The three conventions are inseparable. Climate-based sea level rise will cause coastal areas to suffer, including the destruction of coral reefs, mangroves, marine ecosystem, which will again contribute to further climate change,” Japanese Environment Minister Ryu Matsumoto was quoted.

Dr. Ahmed Djoghlaf, UN Assistant Secretary General and Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, argued that “Climate change and loss of biodiversity are two major planetary threats facing mankind… loss of biodiversity is one of the most serious effects, and at the same time, driver of climate change. The relationship between biodiversity and climate change is a two-way street.”

In a forum hosted by the Philippine Press Institute, the head of public affairs department of the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity complained that “biodiversity did not attract media and public attention compared to climate change and political issues. The Philippine public seems to be unaware of the connection of climate change and biodiversity.”

But how exactly did the Philippine press perform against these expectations? To begin to answer the question, Barroga-Jamias and Domingo content-analyzed the Philippine Daily Inquirer, said to be the largest national newspaper (circulation: 260,000 to 280,000).

They picked 326 online articles on climate change from the archives of from June to October 2012. What they found was that less than one-fourth of the number directly linked climate change with biodiversity.

Most of these were news articles of from 100 to 500 words, leaving “little room for analysis, investigation, or in-depth reportage of the interconnection of the two issues.”

From the 24% or 79 articles that linked climate change with biodiversity, seven “frames” or themes emerged:

  1. Biodiversity can mitigate the effects of climate change and vice-versa. (26%)
  2. Climate change inflicts negative effects on products and services derived by humans from biodiversity (food, clothing, shelter, etc.). Humans suffer from natural disasters. (19%)
  3. Loss of biodiversity is “costly” and caused by coal mining, overpopulation, global livestock production dominated by a few powerful corporations. (16%)
  4. Climate change and biodiversity are equally important and need to be addressed together with poverty and sustainable development. (14%)
  5. Climate change and biodiversity issues need initiatives in policymaking and social movement. (13%)
  6. Climate change negatively affects ecosystems and threatens protected areas, marine ecosystems and forest ecosystems. (11%)
  7. Climate change threatens a single species, as in declining coconut harvest, threatened habitat of sharks, etc. (6%)

The UPLB researchers argued that the press was important in setting the public agenda. The so-called “agenda setting” function of the press theorizes that topics that are salient in media also become salient in the public consciousness; thus, media influence what the public thinks about.

They also cited the so-called second level of agenda-setting, or “framing theory” which said how media “frame” or contextualize or thematically present the issue will affect how the public thinks about that issue.

The researchers said reporters need training to understand climate change and biodiversity and “to raise the level of their expertise on how such interlinked problems could be addressed by policymakers.

“Only a few articles used the ‘call to action’ frame for needed laws, policies and social movements to mitigate climate change and arrest biodiversity loss.”

They also recommended that media managers create a distinct Environment Section on their online sites. (By Ms Celia E. Acedo, SU Research and Environmental News Service)