The Paradoxes of Climate Change Reporting
In comparison to big newspapers with an established sophisticated newsroom and trained journalists, the coverage of climate stories is noticeable in state editions of language newspapers, even though the profile of these stories has never been higher. In a hill state like Himachal Pradesh, the public understanding of the subject is low and journalists are no exception as they come from the same community with limited exposure to the issue. The reflection of this can be seen in the stories published in the state editions of Hindi newspapers. The opinions and views presented in these stories are mostly outdated, driven by spin or simply wrong.
In state editions of Hindi language newspapers published from Himachal Pradesh, stories about climatic hazards/disasters reflected in terms of extreme temperature and extreme precipitation events are often written without a brief introduction that covers what, why and how the type of questions about a particular issue like chill or heat waves, cloud burst and flash-floods etc. Moreover, issues such as implications of climate change viz. loss of biodiversity, shift in vegetation, migration of species, loss of food security, and increase of insects/vector-borne diseases etc. hardly get any space. Many times, disastrous events like earthquakes or flash floods are covered just like a simple science/environment story. Most of the journalists working in these state editions of Hindi newspapers are graduates of arts or social sciences and are unwilling or unable to have a better understanding of science. Since, climate change nowadays encompasses the economy, health, security and more, the subject is extremely complex and easy to get wrong. The foremost challenge in covering climate change stories is the requirement for a strong grasp of the fundamentals of the climate debate. This grasp is often lacking and this has contributed to stories out of facts and false balance. The coverage of a recent event – a flash flood-like situation in Dharamshala covered by the state editions of Hindi newspapers was woefully inadequate (Nisbet, 2010). Nearly all the state editions termed the situation as a cloud-burst quoting state sources instead of consulting with qualified scientists which brought chaos and created panic among the state community. The story was quickly picked up by many national TV channels and newspapers, and the visuals of the incident quickly circulated on social media. This is one of the many examples of journalistic balance gone wrong.