SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Reporting in an era of consequence

(A message for the 9th Mindanao Media Summit held April 25-26, 2014 in Davao City. The summit carries the theme “Communicating the Impact of Climate Change in Mindanao”.)

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/25 April) — Time was when Butuan City was the only city in Mindanao beset by periodic floods. That is no longer the case now. Many cities and towns in the island are now bearing the brunt of the impacts of a changed climate which, as the world now knows, has been spurred by the warming of the atmosphere. We have entered what former US vice president Al Gore aptly calls in the documentary “The Inconvenient Truth” an era of consequence.

The visible consequence has been the string of disasters that have occurred and are yet to occur. And, if I may venture into a quick assessment, media reporting on these events tends to focus on the usual menu – number of victims, cost of damage to infrastructure and agriculture, and how much has been allotted for relief aid. This is not bad per se. Nonetheless, it’s the body count syndrome all over again, although the arena of reporting is no longer the war front.

Worse, reporters have not really reached out to more informed sources – scientists and experts, environment groups, policymakers and yes, the affected communities – resulting in superficial stories that are simply more of the same.

Such shortcomings may be attributed to the fact that environment reporting is a relatively new field, and most journalists lack a basic understanding of the science that would enable them to produce credible reports. Moreover, they possibly lack a working knowledge about the environment and disaster management policies that would enrich their reporting and give it depth as well as social and political context.

So how important and urgent is it to develop environment and disaster reporting into a field of specialization? Not a few experts have warned that future wars, even domestic ones, will be triggered by conflicts over access to dwindling resources, and advised governments that they better make resource management a major element in national security planning. The occurrence of more disasters is likely to accelerate such conflicts.

This scenario may sound frightening. But the written word holds a power of its own. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno is the chair of MindaNews, one of the organizers of the summit.)