AFRICA: how are the media contributing to the ecological transition?

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AFRICA: how are the media contributing to the ecological transition? © PHILIPIMAGE/Shutterstock

In a world plagued by climate change and all its consequences, technological innovation is often presented as a concrete solution for the ecological transition on all five continents. In Africa, this long process is not necessarily well understood by governments and local populations, who sometimes see it as an obstacle to economic development. What is the role of journalists in this debate? How do the African media deal with information and innovations on the ecological transition?

With pollution peaks undermining the attractiveness of cities in West Africa, prolonged droughts exacerbating food insecurity in East Africa and cyclones destroying everything in their path in Southern Africa, the climate emergency is real and no longer needs to be demonstrated. Over the last few years, the African continent, like most other regions of the world, has begun its ecological transition. This involves switching from fossil fuels to clean energy sources, minimising the depletion of resources such as water, and recycling waste, particularly plastics.

The media play a key role in achieving these complex objectives and reaching out to all sections of society, from children and adults to businesses and governments. They play a key role in raising awareness of the ecological cause among readers, listeners, television viewers and internet users, taking into account socio-economic disparities and even cultural diversity. Media coverage of the ecological transition takes the form of analysis on natural disasters, debates to explain what is at stake in international decisions on the climate, portraits to present innovations and new green advances, reports on the loss of biodiversity, and a few investigations to denounce the environmental impact of polluting industries.

Precarious media coverage of the ecological transition

It is only in the last two decades that the African media have begun to take a real interest in these subjects, albeit with often controversial approaches. This is the case with the majority of audiovisual newsrooms which, for financial reasons, are forced to broadcast commercial content that runs counter to their desire to contribute to the ecological transition. In concrete terms, a news programme ends with a story about the alarming pollution peaks in a region, but then goes on to broadcast an advert promoting fossil fuels. Worse still is the publication of a company press release in a weekly tabloid recruiting young people to clear hectares of land to grow cocoa.

What can we say about those who claim to be contributing to the implementation of SDG13 on climate change, but fail to distinguish between cyclone and coastal erosion, energy mix and electricity mix, CO2 emissions and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, sustainable urbanisation and sustainable urban planning, to name but a few terms? One radio presenter went further in this type of confusion, pointing out that an African city had become a “Smart City” (an area where technology makes daily life easier, editor’s note) because dozens of green spaces had been created.

Obstacles to media coverage of ecology

All this simply reflects a lack of specialisation in the media sphere in Africa. In the same way that there are very few radio stations, television channels, print or online newspapers devoted exclusively to the environment, there are also very few journalists dedicated to the same cause in the existing mainstream media. This is why AFRIK 21 was set up in 2018 to impose a pan-African and bilingual vision of sustainable development with a team of young, dynamic professionals who are open to the world.

To return to the precarious media coverage of the ecological transition in the mainstream media in Africa, it is important to note a number of external obstacles. These include censorship by public authorities, who sometimes prevent television cameras from filming state schools built in the middle of swamps in violation of their own environmental legislation.

There is also the stranglehold exerted by multinationals, particularly large industrial groups, who put pressure on editorial writers to avoid headlines such as “food waste by major retailers”.

Some solutions to consider

However, there are a few ways in which the African media can fulfil their role as educators and forums for people’s resilience. These include increasing budgets for coverage of environmental issues (natural disasters, for example). Specialisation of some journalists in the general media so that they are skilled in the use of technical terms (the jargon of the ecological transition), in the casting (choice of profiles) of their panellists and even in the creation of new relevant columns on ecology.

Read also- Speak out and get involved with Afrik 21

Audiovisual producers should also use more sophisticated equipment and reduce the timings of their programmes in order to make them more interesting and at the same time set an example in terms of reducing energy consumption. The separation of editorial and commercial teams is also vital to avoid greenwashing and the promotion of climate scepticism. But all these elements will be in vain if governments do not strengthen press freedom, which is essential for a successful ecological transition.

Benoit-Ivan Wansi

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