Top news media are failing to identify climate change as a contributor to some of the world’s biggest crises, including migration, food insecurity and conflict, says a new research report funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and presented at the 21st UNCCD Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris on Friday.
“The media, whether local or global, are among the world’s most influential institutions and how they shape the climate change narrative remains vitally important,” said IFAD President, Kanayo F. Nwanze, about why his organisation sponsored the research. “If the world becomes aware of how climate change threatens our food security or why it is a catalyst for migration and conflict, then we can expect better support for policies and investments that can pre-empt future crises.”
The report, “Food, Migration and Climate Change: The Untold Story,” was prepared by Sam Dubberley, a journalist and Director of Kishnish Media Ltd. The research was conducted in September and includes an analysis of eight popular and highly influential news outlets in the United Kingdom and France, including the BBC, Channel 4, TF1, The Guardian, Daily Mail, Le Monde, Libération and France 2.
Dubberley explained, “We chose to conduct our research in September so that it wouldn’t be skewed by all of the reporting we’re seeing now because of the COP21 in Paris.”
The report looks at the depth of media reporting around climate change and whether it was being linked to issues of food security, agriculture and migration and, if so, whether those stories were given prominent placement such as on front pages. It asked what power voices were heard throughout the stories and if farmers or migrants themselves were ever interviewed or quoted. And finally, it looks at what news readers understand about food and migration-related climate change impacts and their impression of media coverage provided.
“The research clearly shows that media analysed did not make the connection between climate change and many of the other stories dominating the news agenda at that time,” Dubberley said. “In fact, our research shows that climate change never once reached the front page of the news outlets we looked at.”
As an example, Dubberley pointed out that while the civil war in Syria and migration from the region dominated the headlines in September, media focus for the conflict was on regime change and not on climate change triggers including drought, unsustainable agricultural practices and poor environmental policies which pushed migrants into cities and contributed to civil unrest in the first place.
Among the reports key findings:
- climate stories were few and far between on the front pages or main television news bulletins analysed;
- news consumers did not believe that major media helped them understand climate change and, in particular, that a connection exists between climate change and issues such as agricultural failure, food insecurity, conflict and migration from developing countries;
- editorial decisions made by news organisations have a direct impact on audience views and beliefs about climate change;
- news consumers believe climate change-related impacts need to be taken more seriously by news organisations and given higher prominence;
- those on the front lines directly impacted by climate change rarely have a voice or are mentioned in stories.
With over three-quarters of the world’s poorest people living in the rural areas of developing countries, Nwanze emphasised that, small-scale farmers are always impacted by the latest global crises – whether it be violence and conflict, the rise of extremism or climate change. “It’s clear – if we don’t recognise the signs earlier, if we don’t make those crucial links then poverty, migration, hunger and conflict will continue to make headlines,” he said.
Last year, IFAD funded a research report that looked at how 19 large global and regional news organisations covered issues related to migration and, in particular, food security and agriculture and how it impacted on migration. It focused on two stories that made headlines over the summer of 2014 – the US/Mexico border crisis and the ongoing conflict in South Sudan, which created a large numbers of migrants. That report also found that the depth of coverage on the topics was lacking, and in particular that the voices of migrants were often left out of the stories.