Media houses need support to cover climate change adequately

Carcass of dead livestock in Korbesa Village of Isiolo North Sub County. [Courtesy, Standard]

Climate journalism has been in practice for decades although the ferocious effects of environmental degradation and ecosystem uncertainty may make the sphere to be viewed as a new phenomenon in recent years.

In Kenya, for example, the media have persistently investigated and reported about the side effects of runaway droughts, particularly in semi-arid northern region of the country. Livestock deaths and excruciating hunger among the pastoral community have always been brought to the fore by journalists.

But now, the effects of climate change on the livelihoods of people, not only in harsh areas but also in agricultural regions calls for concerted financial and material resource' mobilisation to mitigate on harmful outcomes of natural and sometimes, man-made disasters in our communities.

“I actually have an assignment for you. You will go to the northern Kenya counties and research on survival tactics the pastoral communities have adopted in the face of enduring harsh implications of climate change. Two, three weeks”, said a senior editor in a leading media house in Kenya.

This response came after a question on the adequacy of media coverage on climate change reporting.

One issue that came out of this conversation is lack of funding for journalists to cover such stories. Huge resources are required to facilitate the successful reporting of such stories considering critical logistical and safety concerns. For instance, roughly Sh300,000, is required for a multimedia crew of four and a driver, inclusive of security and fixer costs, to spend about 10 days in northern Kenya to do indepth features of that nature.

It is in the public domain that many media houses in Kenya today are struggling  financially following the devastating effects of Covid-19 and the dwindling revenues generated from advertisements. This begs the question: Where will the media get funding to report on climate journalism?

Climate change affects the entire world, from sub-Saharan Africa’s hunger due to rainfall scarcity to severe flooding, heat waves, and wildfires in countries like the USA. Kenya has been fighting hunger, and the government even declared it a national disaster in 2021. The northern counties, coastal and some eastern Kenya regions have received insufficient rain for seasons now. This problem is fueled by human activities such as deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels. As the cause lies with humans, it is only through correcting our actions that we can reverse these effects.

Now is not the time to question who will benefit the most from the climate action agenda or engage in blame games. We are all suffering from the impacts of climate change. In this context, the media plays a powerful role in amplifying the voice on climate change. But again, the question arises: Who will fund the media?

During hard economic times for the media landscape, climate journalism faces additional challenges in securing funding. However, there are still funding models that can be explored to support climate journalism initiatives.

“Working with non-governmental organisations, granting foundations and charities can help raise the much-needed funds”, says Henry Neondo, a Climate Change Communication specialist.

Foundations, non-profit and climate-focused organisations may try to prioritise funding climate journalism despite economic difficulties. These are the entities that squarely recognise the importance of accurate and impactful climate reporting. Consequently, they may have dedicated funding streams or emergency funds available to support journalism organisations during challenging times. Already, it is encouraging that organisations such as Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is blazing the trail.

Collaboration between media organisations, research institutions, advocacy groups, and private entities can also be explored to pool resources and share funding. Organisations like International Association for Media and Communication Research focuses on improving research on global perspectives on new knowledge, among others. They can fund climate reporting. Such partnerships can involve co-created content, sponsored investigations and research, or brand-aligned initiatives that generate revenue for climate reporting.

Corporations and businesses with sustainability commitments can provide funding opportunities for climate journalism since economic expansion and corporate environmental responsibility are interconnected. Numerous companies within the local context prioritise environmental conservation as part of their corporate social responsibilities. Standard Chartered Bank, Cooperative Bank, corporations like CFAO Motors-Toyota Kenya, KenGen and Kenya Power, among others, address environmental concerns.

Engaging with the community and building a strong relationship with readers can help sustain climate journalism in these challenging economic times. Media organisations can appeal to their audiences for support through subscriptions, membership, and donations.

Exploring innovative revenue models can be crucial during tough economic conditions. This can include diversifying revenue streams through sponsored content, events, webinars, or specialised climate-focused products and services. Monetising digital platforms through targeted advertising or paywalls can also generate income to sustain climate journalism initiatives.

Advocating for government support for climate journalism can also be vital during economic downturns.