Pacific Scoop

Boost Pacific climate change ‘frontline’ coverage and analysis, educator tells media

David Robie

David Robie speaking at the creativity and climate change conference in Suva, Fiji. Photo: Shailendra Singh/USP

Pacific Scoop
Report – By Pacific Media Watch in Suva

News media need to boost their coverage and analysis of Pacific environmental issues to meet the critical challenges facing the region, says a journalism educator.

Associate Professor David Robie, director of the Pacific Media Centre, told a creativity and climate change conference at the University of the South Pacific this week that most media were not doing enough about the issues.

With up to 75 million Asia-Pacific climate change refugees being predicted by 2050 by many science reports, news media needed to urgently “up their game” on environmental reporting.

Describing some of the environmental indicators confronting the region and the failure of Australia and New Zealand to adopt more radical carbon emission reduction targets and to give greater support to adaptation strategies in the Pacific, Dr Robie told the conference developing nations in the Pacific were in the frontline of global climate change.

News media needed to adopt “frontline” news reporting and analysis strategies to challenge policy priorities.

The survival of countries such as Kiribati, Tuvalu and remote parts of the Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Papua New Guinea and Tonga were at stake.

Takuu Atoll

A king tide strikes on Takuu Atoll, Papua New Guinea. Photo: Still from There Once Was an Island.

Climate change had the potential to have an impact on almost every development and poverty issue in the region.

Part of solution?
“So where does the mainstream media fit in the middle of this complex scenario and the digital technologies revolution? Is the media part of the problem or part of the solution?” Dr Robie asked.

“For the most part, it is probably part of the problem. The relentless pursuit of ratings, short-term circulation spinoffs, the dumbing down of content and ruthless cutting back of staff are examples of this.

“And there are many instances of poor editorial judgment or downright sensationalist opportunism that accentuate this problem.

“These frequently overshadow the times when the news media does a credible job and puts in considerable effort over public social justice and environmental issues and other agenda-setting reports such as climate change.”

Dr Robie talked of several innovative information initiatives on climate change and the effective use of social and independent media that challenges mainstream “sluggishness” on the issues.

He praised the experimental new media project headed by the University of Technology, Sydney, based on the website Reportage-Enviro which is linked to the Global Environmental Journalism Initiative (GEGI) – run cooperatively by several international journalism schools – and Pacific Scoop.


Takuu girls

Young girls on Takuu Atoll. Photo: Still from There Once Was an Island.

Climate refugee film
One of the highlights of the conference was the screening of the new film There Once Was an Island : Te Henua e Nnoho directed by New Zealander Briar March, which tells the story of an isolated Polynesian community on Takuu  Atoll in the Mortlocks in Papua New Guinea losing their culture and their homes as some prepare to relocate in Melanesian Bougainville more than 250 km to the south-west.

They are among the first of the climate change refugees in the Pacific and their on-screen story was greeted with emotion by the audience.

More about There Once Was an Island.
The USP creativity and climate change conference.


  1. Mrs Prue Rouse, 19. September 2010, 7:35

    Assistant Professor David Robie is to be thoroughly congratulated for speaking out about the lack of serious attention and reporting on the present effects and the coming effects of Climate Change in the Southern Pacific Region. If ever there were an opportunity presented to change our thinking on many levels about many things, this is it. “Adapt or die” – the lessons of the raised beaches to be seen on any sea-loch in Scotland or in Scandinavia are there for us all to see and to know and to understand. Living at sea level may no longer be an option for any thinking person. We had decided this twenty years ago.

  2. terry, 19. September 2010, 12:23

    i think the problem is deeper than that,
    For Samoa, the problem I see is that the local daily (I used to work for them) does not want to acknowledge government’s climate change adaptation measures. Ironically, Samoa is the regional leader in this department.
    They see the construction of roads, seawalls, bridges, water pumps, etc, as simply political posturing to the communities.
    They appeal, well pander, to a certain sector of the community that perceive everything government does as politically-driven.
    Since 2006, government has built 78 inland roads, 65 seawalls and river embankments, 33 bridges and fords, numerous rural water pump facilities, expansive rural electrifcation and communication and IT infrastructure, port facilities, etc.
    With what limited funds govt gets from its development partners and the national budget we try to spread it out in a five-year programme.
    It needs expansive coverage of these projects in the media so that the public and our development partners know how their funds are being utilized.
    There is close monitoring and reporting mechanism in place on how these funds are being used and how these projects are being carried out.
    Much of our coverage is devoted to development issues with a strong environment/climate change/poverty alleviation inferrence.
    Robie, if the mainstream media is to instill a climate change awareness among our communities, then its best to encourage editors and reporters to look at and write about issues taking in, among others, a climate change perspective.
    From what I notice, people who read newspapers don’t bother reading stories devoted solely to climate change. It’s not sexy.

    Tupuola Terry Tavita
    Savali Publications

  3. Coralia, 20. September 2010, 12:07

    Thank you Professor Robie for calling on mainstream media to up their game on climate change…its about time someone reminds them what’s actually important!

    I stand to disagree with the above comment. You’re darn right it’s not sexy (there’s nothing sexy about the threat posed by climate change anyways!)…its darn well scary and attention captivating when coconut trees are sprawled on the beach in the Tokelaus and houses standing in sea water in Kiribati….so yeah people will be interested in seeing, reading and listening to these kind of things, after all its the very basis of our survival at stake!

    SPREP should be applauded for highlighting climate change in terms of media coverage (short films, TV programs, radio broadcasts & pamphlets etc). If mainstream media could once in a while do this….it’ll help a lot! Problem is…they’re too busy reporting political upheavals!


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