The MEC 2011 conference, which saw 20 insightful presentations by scholars and climate activists of international repute, ran from 9am to 6.30pm on Friday, March 4. Journalism students Nick Summers, Gaia Manco and Shreshtha Trivedi captured the eventful day in text and pictures. Read their posts from the venue:
Environment and media studies
Students think that environment is not central to media studies – but it is.
Julie Doyle of the University of Brighton says media studies curricula are now more environmentally-aware. At different stages, the curricula explore the problems of communicating environmental issues in the mainstream media, climate change interpretations looked at, etc.
Academics must transfer their theories into practice, reconsidering their way of teaching or researching (eg: reducing airplane travels to conferences).
Doyle: ways to move forward with the mediation of environmental issues include incorporating environment within modules through discussions and analysis, encouraging interdisciplinary teaching, sharing good practices, and encouraging self reflexive practices.
Media should campaign for fair-trade computers
Sy Taffel of Bristol University raises the issue of hardware sustainability in his presentation titled ‘Media, Materiality and the Environment: Exploring the Ethics and Sustainability of Hardware.’
He gives the example of nitrogen cycle. In an environmental cycle there is input or output; it is self-sustainable and can go on for billions of years. But an industrial process is linear, resulting in huge accumulation of matter. Basic materials used in this industrial process are toxic lead, arsenic, mercury, cadmium — all extremely harmful.
Taffel says how our idea of ‘development’ is causing so much suffering in the world can be gauged from this example: Colton, used in capacitors in smartphones, is the cause of a major conflict in Congo. Congo is the world’s major producer of Colton, and its high demand has triggered a massive conflict there, leading to 5.4 million deaths, not to mention slave labour and destruction of forests.
The manufacturing of micro-electronics is not only about environmental right, but human rights as well, he says. Developed countries have outsourced this toxic procedure to sweatshops in developing countries like China and Malaysia.
The consumerist culture and short life span of electronics is due to the ‘’upgrade culture and profit motive of the makers’’. Even recycling of these micro-electronics is not helpful, as they need manual de-assembling, which results in the poisoning of the ecosystem, Taffel says.
Conclusion? Depend not on recycling. Instead, pay attention to effective designing. Like fair-trade coffee, media should campaign for fair-trade computers.
We too are nature: why sustainability is good for your health
Paul Stevens from Bournemouth University in his presentation ‘Sustainable wellbeing: linking the personal and the planetary’ speaks of how sustainability and wellbeing are linked.
Stevens says sustainability in environmental terms is the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems, but the most widespread definition is the one mediated by economics: maintaining the capacity to provide non-declining wellbeing over time.
Wellbeing is defined as quality of life, and can be hedonic, i.e. going towards shortterm pleasures, or eudemonic, i.e. aiming at long-term pleasures linked to a sense of meaning of life.
The ecopsychology approach tries to solve the opposition between sustainability, which is set in the future, and wellbeing, which is a matter of here and now. According to ecopsychology, however, we cannot separate us from environment as “we too are nature”.
The emergent sustainability links sustainability and wellbeing by demonstrating that protection of nature is actually beneficial for our current wellbeing, Stevens argues.
Podcasts post lunch
Dan Glass: The Media is the Message
Anita Howarth: The Whaling Wars of the Antarctic
More to come. Watch out particularly for the lively Q&A session of the Climate Activism/Citizen Conversations panel!
Between the scientist and the policymaker
Margarida Sardo presented her study on ‘Scientific Evidence and environmental policy-making: A Portuguese Case Study’.
The researcher from University of West of England, Bristol emphasised the role of environmental consultants as mediators in policymaking.
Her study aimed to find out whether environmental consultants in Portugal could become like science journalists – understanding and relaying scientific knowledge to public. Portugal was taken as a case study because it a “small European country where environment is only though in terms of EU legislation”.
The questionnaire was specifically designed to target environment consultants and the findings underlined the role of consultation within policymaking, barriers to scientific evidence, and how to overcome those barriers.
The role of the environment consultant was to work with national and local government, having the versatility to fit in during policymaking as well as in the execution of the policy. The scientific evidence used by consultants are books, academic papers, and direct contact with scientists. So it can be said that environment consultants are mediators between scientific research and policymakers in Portugal.
But what are the barriers in Portugal? These could range from policymakers not always finding research easy to understand, to research taking too long, to the Portuguese scientific community not properly engaging with policymakers.
Environment consultants can overcome these barriers by not only having good communication skills, but also speaking the language that policymakers use, besides being pragmatic and patient with them. Sardo concluded by saying that environmental consultants can act as a mediator between the scientific community and policymakers, though this may not be true in all countries.
Podcast: Q&A Plenary Session
James Painter and Rupert Read answers questions from the audience
Filmmakers caught between business and social objectives
Presentation by John Blewitt, Aston University, titled ‘Researching the public pedagogy of environmental and conservation media’.
Filmmakers need money to make films, therefore have to be part of a business world they do not always agree with. They are caught between their profession, which is an economic activity, and their objectives of social change.
But as they are part of a business system, producers must find the right balance between financing and principles. Filmmakers have to balance making films for money and for righteous causes. Some films/documentaries may never get shown, but balance is necessary, Blewitt stresses.
Podcast: The language that mediates positive environmental change — or environmental decay
Rupert Read – The Language that Mediates Positive Environmental Change
Green Councillor and University of East Anglia academic Rupert Read’s presentation from the Plenary session earlier in the day.
Podcast: Reporting from Copenhagen and Cancun
James Painter, in audio. From the pre-lunch Plenary session.
Poverty-tainment goes mainstream
Michael Goodman of King’s College London says that celebrities these days show competitive compassion: they are politicised celebs, either through freelance or endorsement through charities.
Cynics say celebs are partnering with campaigns and charities to build their own brand. Celebrities becoming the voice of downtrodden has led to celebritisation of development. It is now acceptable to donate to a charity and think you are doing your bit. This has now become ethical consumerism.
Celeb development is a business venture, Goodman says. Photoshoot of the star in poverty and then textual description in publications creates star poverty space.
Celebritisation of process must involve press, so people can see their emotional side. Photo-op is most important. Goodman spoke of what Chris Martin said in Coldplay: “Nobody has to listen to me if they can see me.’’ Matt Damon travelled to Rwanda and was active on Facebook and Twitter, so he could be seen as ‘doing development’.
The case of Lindsay Lohan was most bizarre, he said. She tweeted about saving 40 girls from sweatshops in Delhi – and she wasn’t even there!
Three important points, according to Goodman:
- To build authenticity, celebs need knowledge, so they travel to those places to understand the situation.
- Also, to prove authenticity, people present there should bear witness of what they are doing, their emotional side.
- Circulation of content is ensured afterwards to prove that they aren’t a part of “hedonistic celebrity consumerist culture”, and this proof reaches maximum people.
Pertinent question, according to Goodman: should we allow the ‘publicity-hungry, compassion celebrities’ to flourish? Or should we contain them? Or maybe this is not possible in the times of these profit-hankering commercial media, who want gossip and controversies all the time.
Is there any happy ending? The strategy of environmental marketing
In her presentation on ‘Advertising and Climate Change in the UK’, Jenny Alexander of Bournemouth University spoke of social environmental advertising as the newest form of social marketing. She presented a series of controversial televisual ads, which sought to promote environmental change. Whether it is the gloomy story on CO2 or the dying polar bears seen in the Plane Stupid advert, the provocative TV adverts are made by conventional marketing agencies, which have clients such as Starbucks or Mercedes, she said — and such adverts create a wave of reaction and media coverage thanks to to the controversial content.
But where is the limit? In the last advert Alexander showed, two kids are literally blown up by their teacher for not wanting to play their part in reducing climate change.
Environmental advertisement is likely to continue as the audience now enjoy it as popular content, especially if interactive, she said.
Reconsidering photojournalism in the face of climate change
According to Ulrike Heine of Justus-Liebig-University Giessen, Germany, the understanding of photojournalism is changing. It is an agent of social political message.
Photojournalists now choose presentations that are uncommon. There is an extensive shift in their perspectives. The photographer’s main role is still to document people, but landscape and panorama have become important too.
Captions by photographers are also quite different, she says. Some give 2-3 line captions, others give a copy blog, which is way longer and contains statistical information. Most of the introductory text is written by photographers themselves. So photography journalism is different form artistic ones, but it is still debatable whether photojournalists have abandoned their principle of being objective observers.
Heine says we must acknowledge the contextual framing of images and their importance.
It’s a story about society, not so much a story about nature
After a challenging debate and a cup of tea, Mat Hope from the University of Bristol captures the audience with a presentation on the news narratives of environmental disasters. He focuses on the Florida oil spill.
On one hand there is the “beleaguered people” narrative; on the other, the executive responsibility narrative. In fact, in media representation, the responsibility was put more on the executive and legislative group than on corporations and on BP itself.
“So where is that presidential boot?” he asks.
From the BP case study, we can see that the human interest of the environmental disaster is the most important news aspect, he says. In fact, it is a story about society, not so much about nature. It is the story about a loss of a way of life.
In the narrative of the oil spill, Mat says, you can see the short-termist nature of media reporting: journalists want to see the immediate story.
Mat presented the concept of ‘language of ecological modernisation’: we need to question the way we use the environment and less the reason why we use it.
Podcast: Q&A, Global Issues/Local Context
Global Issues – Local Contexts Q&A
Annika Sjolander, Juan Coghlan, Alex Lockwood and Pieter Maeseele answer questions from the audience. Audio from the morning session.
Blogs as the new environmental discourse
Larry Pryor, former environmetal journalist and scholar from the Annemberg School of Journalism and Communication, says that environmental blogs are a must, as they constitute a bridge between science and commonsense. Scholars must look at them. They’d miss a large segment of discourse if they didn’t consider new media.
Climate camp: The underdog who went mainstream
Presentation by Maxine Newlands
Podcast: Affecting environments
Alex Lockwood’s paper on ‘Emotional experiences between media and place in the Save Our Forests campaign’ from the Global Issues/Local Contexts panel.
Podcast: Mediating environmental change: choose conflict
PieterMaeseele – MediatingEnvironmentalChange
As panel 3 continues, here’s Pieter Maeseele’s paper from the morning session, in audio
‘You can’t run away from climate change’
Presenting the paper ‘The Media is the Message’, Dan Glass explains how through education and provocative interventions Plane Stupid is trying to explain to the UK population that they should fly less, and why.
When Glass received a prize from Gordon Brown he put in place a soft, creative and “stupid” media strategy, by double-shaking the Prime Minister’s hand: ”You can run away from my hand but you can’t run away from climate change.”
Podcast: If the media can’t, who can?
In audio, Annika Egan Sjolander on Why Media Matter: The democratic handling of complex environmental issues.
WelcomeAddress – Einar Thorsen
Einar Thorsen’s opening address.
Rupert Read’s presentation in images
Green Party Councillor and University of East Anglia academic Rupert Read spoke about the language used to portray environmental issues. Below are some of our favourite images of his talk.
The potential of Copenhagen and its subsequent disappointments plague us all. James Painter, from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and formerly of the BBC World Service highlights the sheer volume of coverage that came out of the Copenhagen summit. The number of attendees, including journalists was far higher than any COP before it.
Brazil and India had the highest amount of coverage at the start and end of Copenhagen. In contrast, the UK was in fourth place; the USA, in a rather lowly seventh. National organisations, including politicians, made up 68% of the quotations found in the coverage of Copenhagen.
Painter says that unlike about Copenhagen, there were much lower expectations of a deal at Cancun. This was due to a very different political context at the time and was realised in a reduction of reportage. None of the UK TV crews attended, and there were only two reporters from all of the American broadcast companies combined. This resulted in a very limited coverage on US networks.
The reduction of environmental journalism is a concern for political progression. James Painter asks: “What are the reasons for climate fatigue amongst journalists, amongst editors and the general public, and what can be done about it?”
Painter argues that the mistakes of IPCC and the ‘climategate’ scandal have added to the endurance of climate scepticism. The effect of these events on the public and politicians can in turn affect the framing and coverage by the media.
Respected journalists have said that stories need to be reframed to emphasise energy problems and new business solutions. Climate change is a notoriously difficult subject to report and the topic is now fraught with controversy. It’s difficult to predict how journalism concerning climate change will proceed in the future.
Opening it up to the floor
A lively Q&A session has been unfolding. Social media is a fantastic asset, but audience members are concerned with how these developments affect the role of the traditional press. Juan Carlos Águila Coghlan has highlighted the pressures that many news organisations are under and how this restricts the diversity of their output. Perhaps the personal and often emotional way of using Twitter and Facebook could be used to sidestep these editorial difficulties.
Peter Maeseele said: “I think the emotional is really important, especially in mobilising people to take action.”
The ideals of ’the big society’ is under particular scrutiny. It’s been suggested that an adaptation of the model could perhaps be more successful. This view hasn’t been unanimously supported, but has certainly produced interest and critique from other members in the audience.
Protecting the woods
If you want to raise a revolution, Twitter is king. Alex Lockwood from the University of Sunderland begins with a series of screenshots showing the mobilisation of a campaign known as ‘Save Our Trees’. The use of Twitter may have baffled a few of the older attendees in the audience, but they are quickly reassured by a few amusing pictures of the Prime Minister. Good save.
Social and digital media is crucial for multiplying and amplifying the messages of the public. The importance of hashtags and retweeting is also being cited as increasingly important for future endeavours. The success of the ‘Save Our Trees’ campaign proves this.
Pieter Maeseele from the University of Antwerp, Belgium discusses how spaces for conflict can be created and expressed. Risk conflicts concerning society and science are the most important to environmental issues and refers to reflexive scientization.
Pieter Maeseele says: ”We cannot see them, we cannot smell them.” This makes it difficult to convey the scale of environmental risks. Maeseele says genetically modified food is a good example, highlighting the specificities of molecular biology and ecology. Unless you have a biochemistry degree, keeping up with the science behind these conflicts can be a tremendous task.
Environmental visions should be ideological. Maeseele argues that you cannot create a consensus for a concept such as climate change — it’s something that can simply never be achieved, for there will always be at least one scientist who disagrees. Risk conflicts are made up by a series of dimensions, made up by the spheres of society, economy and nature. Deeper still is a level of elements such as scientific progress, development, cost-benefit and economic progress. The GM debate should not be seen as a conflict, but a range of possible positive solutions instead.
Ultimately, Maeseele asks that reporting reveals the competing sets of assumptions and interests that underline environmental issues, rather than the simplistic idea of a scientific consensus.
Covering the Cancun summit on Spanish TV
Journalism becomes a social reality for readers, which in turn affects the political agenda. This is the opening remark by Juan Carlos Águila Coghlan, from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Juan has been investigating the framing of the Cancun summit by TV channels in Spain.
There were 166 news items across the 13 days of the Cancun summit. Too much? Too less? Perhaps most interesting of all, almost 90% of the coverage came from public TV channels rather than private alternatives. Clips of the first day give a glimpse of the reportage, moving on swiftly to a wealth of visual data. The contrast between coverage on the first and last day is remarkable — an almost polar switch from negative to positive remarks.
Juan’s conclusions are bleak. Climate change is not seen as an important item for television media in Spain. The perspective is heavily influenced the news organisation’s editorial line.
Opening the discussion
Einar Thorsen took to the floor with an energetic introduction, setting the scene for what will hopefully be a lively morning. Panel chair Julie Doyle was quick to hand over to the first speaker of the Global Issues panel, acknowledging the time constraints that will most likely plague the symposium throughout the day.
Annika Egan Sjölander, from Umeå University in Sweden described the battle to convert consumers to biofuels and ethanol as a “huge task” in her home nation. The complexity of the issues and the lack of any one obvious solution often makes environmental problems difficult to handle. Sjölander highlights nuclear waste as a prime example. She adds that the mass media matters in order to articulate individual problems in relation to a wider field of environmental issues.
Annika Egan Sjölander says: ”There is a need to be able to articulate — and if we can’t do it, who can?”
In order to be free and self governing, citizens need to have enough information to formulate their own arguments and opinions. This in turn creates an arena of public discussion, providing crucial input for the political agenda. The role of the media as a watchdog and to critique the actions of decision-makers has also been touched upon.
Sjölander’s firsthand experience from working in Sweden is certainly enlightening.
A flavour of the day
With the start of the conference fast approaching, here’s a brief rundown of the event schedule. This way you’ll know exactly who’s speaking and when to tune in for those all important debate sessions.
After the welcome address, the presentations will kick off with the Global Issues and Local Contexts panel at 9.45am, chaired by Julie Doyle from the University of Brighton. We’re particularly looking forward to the segment on ‘Television Coverage of the Cancun Summit on Spanish TV’, explored by Juan Carlos Águila Coghlan from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Other speakers include Annika Egan Sjölander, from Umeå University in Sweden; Alex Lockwood, University of Sunderland and Pieter Maeseele, University of Antwerp in Belgium.
Once everyone has refuelled and taken a quick break, the plenary session will begin at 11.20am. James Painter, from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, will debate some of the issues surrounding the reporting from Copenhagen and Cancun summits. It’ll be interesting to see the perspective of a journalist who was present at the events. This will be followed by Rupert Read from the University of East Anglia, exploring the language that can portray positive and negative environmental change.
Lunch at 12.20am, so we’ll be taking some time out to recharge our batteries and prepare for the afternoon ahead. Rejoin us at 1.05pm, when Stuart Allan, Professor of Journalism at Bournemouth University, will chair a panel on climate activism and citizen conversations. Climate science blogs, the role of the public and counter politics will be scrutinised in this early afternoon session.
Alex Lockwood, from the University of Sunderland, will take the helm from 2.55pm. The power of mediation will be examined through the coverage by The New York Times, photojournalism and poverty-tainment. Panellists: Mat Hope, University of Bristol; Ulrike Heine, Justus-Liebig-University Giessen in Germany; Jenny Alexander, Bournemouth University; Michael Goodman and Christine Barnes, King’s College London.
The main debates will round off with a look at conservation, media and pedagogy. Highlights include a section on sustainable wellbeing brought forward by Paul Stevens from Bournemouth University, as well as potential for Higher Education curriculum development discussed by Julie Doyle from the University of Brighton.
As you can see, there will be much information on the mediation of environmental issues. Stay with us here on the live update for latest developments.
Visualising the conference
Early rise, plenty of shine
Plush leather seats and dark wooden desks arc around a dominating overhead projector, setting the stage for Mediating Environmental Change: Exploring the Way Forward. The Executive Business Centre in Bournemouth will be playing host to a variety of academic speakers, environmental activists and researchers, and journalism lecturers.
Registration begins at 9.00 am, in 30 minutes. A sense of apprehension looms over the conference hall. Sound levels are checked, air conditioning is tweaked and vantage seats fought over by the bloggers covering the event. I’m already looking forward to my first injection of caffeine.