Thursday, August 8, 2013

Media academic seeks stronger journalism empowerment over climate change

The Hungry Tide, one of the documentaries featured in Professor David Robie’s Suva paper on Pacific journalism’s own challenges of adaptation to environmental changes. Trailer: Ronin Films

By Sherita Sharma in Suva

A former USP academic says global environmental challenges – especially in the Pacific region – give the opportunity for deliberative journalism to help Pacific communities become empowered.

At a symposium organised during the recent 12th Pacific Science Inter-Congress, Professor David Robie, based at the Auckland University of Technology and a former head of USP Journalism, talked about a variety of issues stemming from the challenge of environmental reporting in the Pacific.

In his presentation, Deliberative journalism, environmental risk and media credibility, Dr Robie explored traditional media values and Pacific journalism’s own challenges of adaptation to environmental changes.

Deliberative journalism is issues-based reporting, and looking at daily news as issues and not merely events.  In the Pacific context, reporting on environmental issues such as climate change have become more prevalent, with countries such as Kiribati and Tuvalu bearing the brunt of these global challenges.

Dr Robie was speaking at a parallel social sciences symposium entitled “Oceans and Islands: ‘Failed states’ and the environment in the Pacific”.

He said in filing issue-based reports which could effectively capture public attention, deliberative journalists also needed to be incisive, comprehensive and balanced to help the public understand the background and context of these issues.

Dr Robie outlined three traditional notions of a professional free media: being watchdogs on political abuse of power; and providing accurate facts for citizens to make informed choices in general elections, as well as a platform for critical and informed debate.

“These traditionally fundamental attributes of a free press with declining credibility have been under question in Western democracies for the past few decades,” he said, adding that nowhere had the legitimacy of the twin assumptions of ‘impartial reporting’ and ‘objectivity’ been more severely tested than with environmental journalism and evaluating risk.

New risks
The new risks involve issues such as climate change, extraction industries degradation, depleted fisheries, genetically modified (GM) food and crops, nuclear waste and oil spills.

Dr David Robie … talking “failed states”, climate change
and deliberative journalism. Photo: Sherita Sharma/USP
He added that journalists were at a critical crossroads, “living in one of the world’s most vulnerable regions to the impact of climate change and the challenges of aid effectiveness and adaptation funding”.

Dr Robie gave a comprehensive analysis of books and documentaries surrounding the challenges of issues-based reporting, including Rethinking Journalism (Peters & Broersma), International Journalism and Democracy (edited by Angela Romano), Climate Wars (Gwynne Dyer)  and Failed States by Noam Chomsky.

He said in the book, International Journalism, Angela Romano’s approach to deliberative journalism by empowering local people and greater popular decision making, was emphasised.

He also touched on Chomsky’s definitions of “failed states” whose perception of the United States sheds a whole new light on the concept. He said many of these states represented a global challenge in the environmental context, and not just politically.

Regarding objectivity in reporting, Dr Robie said: “Decisions to cover this or not cover that, or to play up this story or play down that one, are after all, subjective”.

“For example, too much coverage was given by some media to fringe climate change deniers under the pretext of ‘objectivity’. But journalists strive to be balanced and fair,” he said.

Professor Robie has been a journalist for more than 40 years, covering issues in the Asia-Pacific region, and is the editor of the Pacific Journalism Review, which is the only peer-reviewed research journal to explore media issues in the region.

He is also the director of the Pacific Media Centre based at the AUT.

Sherita Sharma is a journalist with the University of the South Pacific media team. This article has been republished from Pacific Scoop.

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