WHOSE VOICES ARE HEARD?
WHOSE VOICES ARE HEARD?
This year I had the privilege of teaching Media Law Ethics to second- and third-year students at the Rhodes School of Journalism Media Studies (JMS). I began the media ethics component of my course by asking my students to become critically observant of what viewpoints are usually represented, and whose voices are mostly heard in the mainstream press.
The Marikana miners’ strike is a case in point. JMS colleague Prof Jane Duncan conducted an extensive study of 153 newspaper articles written about Marikana at the height of its media coverage. She found that of all the information gleaned by journalists only 3% came from interviewing the mineworkers themselves.
Indeed, of that 3%, every interview except for one focused on the muthi that the men purportedly wore to stave off bullets. So essentially in 153 big media stories about Marikana only one mineworker who experienced the shooting was actually asked what happened. The other 97% of information came from unions, political parties, big business, the mining company and ‘independent experts’.
So what does this have to do environmental matters? Everything actually!
In 2012 fracking, food security, drinking water safety, rhino poaching, climate change and the sharp increase of mining exploration in eco-sensitive areas were the big environmental issues of the year.
MORE PEOPLE-ORIENTED ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS
Next year I’d like to see the coverage of these issues becoming far more people oriented. For example, I don’t just want to read about resource company representatives calling fracking a huge scientific breakthrough, or economists speculating on its profit potential, or environmental agencies pointing out its flaws.
I’d like to know what communities have directly experienced the impact of fracking and what they have to say about its effects on their lives. I don’t just want to hear raging debates between climate scientists and climate change denialists.
I want to know what is being experienced by people in areas allegedly worse-affected by climate change, such as Pacific Islanders or indigenous populations on the edges of the Arctic Circle.
I’m tired of the rants around rhino. I’d like to hear more about what people who’ve lost rhinos to poaching have to say – what insights they now have that may prevent it in future. I want first-hand accounts of what the anti-poaching units are experiencing.
In other words I’m looking for new voices, new angles, new perspectives and new sources in environmental reporting next year – sources that are not necessarily bound to institutional agendas and the handcuffs of officialdom. I want to know what’s actually going on.
CONFERENCE OF THE PARTIES COP-OUT
On every front page around the world I’d like to see more honest reporting about increasing carbon emissions – despite carbon reduction agreements being reached or not reached, and global climate summits happening annually. Indeed, if anything, the annual Conference of the Parties (COP) needs to be exposed as a mere generator of emissions from thousands of delegates’ travelling and conferencing – a COP-out where neither plans of action are formulated nor firm commitments are made.
COP18, which just finished in Qatar, achieved absolutely nothing, except for reducing its own footprint by trying to go paperless. You’ll read that in every commentary piece written about it – if you make it to the back pages where commentaries are neatly tucked away.
Front pages have other fish to fry. It’s only our very existence that’s at stake – nothing newsworthy there.
I for one am hugely appreciative of the fact that we have Grocott’s in Grahamstown, where local environmental matters receive prominence in a regular enviro column – a column whose final edition for 2012 was mine to write.
FIND OUT WHAT’S ACTUALLY GOING ON!
So happy new year everybody! Remember to put recyclables in orange or see-through bags for normal municipal collection and arm yourselves with knowledge about what’s really going on in your world.
As James A Joseph stated in a Rhodes Journalism Review article titled “Leadership, Ethics Journalism”, perhaps it’s time for the press to focus less on holding leaders accountable and more on helping citizens become responsible.
Here’s to great environmental reporting in 2013! See you then!