UNESCO unveils guidebook for climate change journalism in Africa


Twenty-three African experts, including academics and journalists, took time to review a manuscript for a forthcoming UNESCO publication entitled “Reporting on Climate Change in Africa: A Practical Guide for Journalists”. Held from 22 to 23 October at the UN Complex in Gigiri, Kenya, the guide is aimed primarily at helping journalists to acquire knowledge and skills on how to better report on the multifaceted subject of climate change in Africa.

More importantly, as Fackson Banda, programme specialist at UNESCO Headquarters, put it in his welcome remarks, “The publication is meant to contribute towards developing transnational and interdisciplinary climate literacy among media professionals and especially journalists, in an attempt to demystify efforts at climate change mitigation and adaptation”.

The workshop brought together various African experts from Botswana, Ghana, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Co-authored by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and INTERNEWS, the manuscript stimulated intense debate focused on the “interdisciplinary” basis of climate change knowledge, and how it could be appropriated by journalists in the “African” context.

Speaking as a journalism educator, Emily Brown, Head of the Media Technology Department of the Polytechnic of Namibia, insisted on the need to underscore truthfulness when reporting on climate change. She added that it was important for news stories to have meaning so as to arouse the readers’ interest. Citing a content-analytical study she carried out, she further highlighted how the media in Namibia tended to bury climate change and environmental stories in the back pages, saying there was need for journalists to actively set the agenda on climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Bonny Alams, contributing to the discussion as a Nigerian journalist, noted: “For us to achieve [such] reportage, we must work to change people’s perception of the daily consumption of what Nigerians refer to us ‘juicy’ stories that revolve under political, economic and social life”.

For his part, drawing on what he called “the African worldview”, Prof. Workineh Kelbessa of Addis Ababa University challenged the authors to take into account issues of ethics and environmental justice as part of the interdisciplinary core of climate change journalism, emphasizing the need to correlate the environment and humanity. He added that the manuscript needed to reflect a better link between indigenous knowledge and science.

The participants also agreed that radio was an important vehicle in the struggle to better report on climate change in Africa. They thus called upon UNESCO and the authors to ensure that the publication addressed aspects that would make it more usable by radio journalists.