Tag Archives: climate change

Media failures on climate change

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‘Arctic sea ice covered a smaller area last winter than in any winter since records began.’ Photograph: Alamy

George Monbiot doesn’t always get things right – I disagreed with his arguments urging Britons to vote “no” in the Brexit referendum, for instance. Yet he hits the proverbial bullseye more often than most commentators.

This recent column on media failures to communicate climate change is a belter, the most relevant paragraphs being the last couple, which are reproduced here:

Why should we trust multinational corporations to tell us the truth about multinational corporations? And if they cannot properly inform us about the power in which they are embedded, how can they properly inform us about anything?

If humanity fails to prevent climate breakdown, the industry that bears the greatest responsibility is not transport, farming, gas, oil or even coal. All of them can behave as they do, shunting us towards systemic collapse, only with a social licence to operate.

The problem begins with the industry that, wittingly or otherwise, grants them this licence: the one for which I work.

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Democracy reloaded – radical reform of our broken governments

Bolivian students in one a Democracy in Practice project administer a lottery to select their student government representatives

Bolivian students in a Democracy in Practice project administer a lottery to select their student government representatives

I’ve spent enough time beefing about our failed government systems – now it’s time to go on the offensive with some positive proposals.

Below is my reworked list of the 10 things I’d do to fix our dysfunctional representative democracies.

So it’s not perfect? What’s yours then?

“10 Steps to heal our broken democracies”

1. Recognising the problem

Representative democracy is broken on its most basic measure – it fails to represent citizens’ wishes. We need radically better alternatives.

2. Setting the bar high

Democracy campaigners should champion the ideals embedded in the original Greek term demokratia. That means the power to govern lies with all citizens.

3. Talking about better democracy

We need media who are fiercely loyal to citizens’ interests and no one else’s. Journalists must understand the systemic failures underlying day-to-day political stories.

4. Democracy as a global issue

Real democracy cannot exist only at nation-state levels – issues like climate change and financial crises extend to the whole planet.

5. Democracy innovations

Even though the perfect democracy doesn’t yet exist and maybe never will we need multiple experiments to explore how best citizens can govern themselves.

6. Making democratic excellence everyday

Excellent governance involves learnable skills. We need an all-of-life learning programme, at home, in schools, in workplaces, in our communities and at all levels up to global.

7. Sharing best practices

We need journalism and social media to share stories about democracy experiments that work and how to do them elsewhere.

8. Taking a look at ourselves

Most people have entrenched ideas about democracy. We need to examine our own prejudices to see just how truly “democratic” we are so that we can all become better democrats.

9. Democracy as a universal right

Democracy champions should respect all people’s different religions, spiritual practices or ethical and moral codes. They should avoid dogmatism and help others renounce fanaticism.

10. Establishing democracy measures

Some representative democracies are better than others but none is good. We need measures to compare different versions so as to identify priority areas for reform.

@PatrickChalmers 23 September 2015                                                                          CC licence image

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Communicating climate change – both tricky and urgent

Greenland river on ice, courtesy James Balog (https://chasingice.com/)

Greenland river on ice, courtesy James Balog (https://chasingice.com/)

I decided to jump into the comments stream on this Guardian-hosted event on the best ways to communicate climate solutions, as below. The format was somewhat of a shocker, requiring a read-through of multiple comments coming in at all angles, and yet produced various pointers to useful resources on the subject. It’s clear we are still stumbling along with global, real-time, communication events but that doesn’t mean they are worthless, quite the opposite.

So this was my contribution:

My experiences of communicating climate change – both as a journalist and as a university lecturer – is that it’s damn difficult. Just yesterday my students were saying – yeah, yeah, we know all that but what can we do?

I showed them the excellent TED talk by photographer James Balog – its time-lapse shots of melting glaciers are very arresting

I think it’s also important to bring things back to the personal, which in this case meant me, to help people map climate change onto their own lives. That is not for some personal glory trip but to try to make the abstract real.

So with me, I reported for Reuters at Kyoto in 1997, reported as an independent journalist on the personal experience of joining direct-action protests in Copenhagen in 2009 and wrote a book on the failures of journalism to tackle complex global issues such as climate change in Fraudcast News – How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus Democracies. The work represents a trajectory covering 30 years of thinking about climate change and how to tackle it. I also recently turned vegetarian, in part for the sorts of arguments presented in the documentary Cowspiracy. They loved that part, a classroom full of French 100% meat-eaters.

Some of them seemed to get it, many probably thought me plain barking mad, but what the hell, these things take time.

Other people’s responses, which include ridicule, disbelief and also aggressive counter argument and worse, are part of what we all have to deal with as communicators of climate change.

We must factor our capacities to deal with those reactions into our work.

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Fraudcast News – lifting lid on media’s “subtle and pervasive bias”

Fraudcast review shotI was delighted to meet Ian Fraser the other day, an award-winning journalist and author of Shredded: Inside RBS, The Bank That Broke Britain. We compared our respective wounds received as journalists kicking outside of the usual confines of our chosen professional activity – an all-too-rare breath of fresh air for me.

We did one another the favour of paying cash for our respective books accompanied with promises to read and review the other’s output.

Ian came good, way ahead of me, doing me the following review on Amazon.

I am delighted by his enthusiasm for the book while also being cheered by his references to the likes of the ex-Telegraph columnist Peter Oborne as proof of the ongoing relevance of its arguments about democracy and journalism.

If I could be so ungrateful, my sole, additional wish would be to encourage anyone who is moved to buy a hard copy to do so via the more independently minded book retailer Hive.co.uk rather than adding to the tax-phobic coffers of Bezos and co.

There’s also the PDF version that you can download for free from here.

Whatever you do, this is the review – many thanks again Ian.

Patrick Chalmers has written an important and timely book. Building on his experience as a Reuters correspondent in London, Brussels and Kuala Lumpur, he lifts the lid on the subtle and pervasive bias of our mainstream media.

He outlines how this bias can include self-censorship, journalists allowing themselves to be “co-opted” by the rich and powerful, the cozying up of media to major advertisers (as we saw with Peter Oborne’s recent revelations that the Daily Telegraph either removed, toned down or failed altogether to cover negative stories about major advertiser HSBC) and the “spiking” of stories that undermine media proprietors’ prevailing pro-globalisation, neo-liberal agenda.

The chapters on the frustrations he felt as a Reuters correspondent trying to provide balanced coverage of the European Union, of dusty corners of the financial markets and of the attempts of Malaysian prime minister Mahathir bin Mohamad to resist the “Washington Consensus” are particularly good.

Patrick argues that the mainstream media in the West, as well as global news outfits such as Reuters and Bloomberg (whose journalism is largely funded by the leasing of data terminals to the finance sector), now see their role as being to buttress a failed economic ideology and to pander to an often corrupt elite. As such, he says they have become a pernicious influence that’s obstructing understanding and democracy. The lack of scepticism that most journalists display for international trade treaties like TTIP and unaccountable EU decision-making processes are just two of the areas of media failure covered in the book. Readers, listeners and viewers are being badly let down, writes Chalmers, adding that by amplifying ‘spin’, the media has unleashed a dangerous tide of misinformation that threatens to engulf our democracies.

The media failures outlined in Fraudcast News are also giving rise to a phenomenon that the writer and journalist Tariq Ali has separately described as the rise of the “extreme centre”. Prefiguring his recently published book The Extreme Centre: A Warning, Ali wrote: “What is the point of elections? The result is always the same: a victory for the extreme centre. Since 1989, politics has become a contest to see who can best serve the needs of the market, a competition now fringed by unstable populist movements. The same catastrophe has taken place in the US, Britain, Continental Europe and Australia.”

Chalmers ends on a positive note. In his conclusion, he examines how as a result of, among other things, the rise of social media and the internet, it has never been easier for civil society and public-interest journalists to develop a more ethical, balanced and responsible approach to covering the news. He provides examples of the rise of alternative channels of communication that bypass the mainstream media, arguing that these are much more capable of challenging our dangerously flawed governance structures than the media we grew up with.

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Book reading benefits

Vienna's Shakespeare and Co bookshop

Shakespeare and Co

Fraudcast News has been out and about for three years now, making its way into the world without the benefits of a conventional publishing push behind.

Without me exactly knowing how – the free PDF has been downloaded more than 10,000 times now and I’ve managed to sell a few hundred paperback copies both online and face to face.

Promotional work has been somewhat haphazard – depending on my attention and energy levels. Probably the best means of all has been by doing book readings – organised on the hoof on my own or with fellow enthusiasts for improving journalism and governance practices.

Fraudcast News on tour - in Vienna

Fraudcast News on tour

Last Thursday, during a visit to meet Professor Clive Spash, Chair of Public Policy and Governance at WU Vienna University of Economics and Business, I had a chance to do a reading at the bookshop Shakespeare and Co in Vienna’s Sterngasse street.

It was one of the most stimulating and enjoyable I’ve done – a lively audience of 30 or so people slotted in among the books and tables of this great venue. It’s a reminder of what independent bookshops can be.

Writing a book is a solitary experience, meaning successful readings such as this one are a treat. There were some excellent questions from the floor and what seemed like some genuine engagement and exchange of ideas.

So – if you’re in Vienna and you fancy some English-language reading material then I would recommend Shakespeare and Co. Its eclectic mix of books had me hooked – I’d have been happy to spend the evening browsing if it hadn’t been for having to do the reading.

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Vienna meets Fraudcast News

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Making case for Quakers to reach for their phone cameras

Showing by doing - Patrick Chalmers filmed by Judy Kirby in a video report featuring Compassion in World Farming's Philip Lymbery (l). Photo by Alistair Heslop.

Showing by doing – Patrick Chalmers is filmed by Judy Kirby in a video report featuring Compassion in World Farming’s Philip Lymbery (l). Photo by Alistair Heslop.

I’ve been working with UK Quaker organisations over the last couple of years, first as a journalist writing article series for the weekly magazine The Friend and latterly in various initiatives aimed at encouraging Quakers to speak their work to the world as citizen journalists.

I like spending time with Quakers – those I’ve encountered so far combine an engagement and energy for taking action to improve our society with a rootedness in their daily faith and practice. Though not a Quaker myself, I find this combination of activism and faith very inspiring. It somehow cuts a path between what seems like apathy on the part of many people with regard to the state of our political systems and the anger, judgment and aggression to which many activists can be prone, myself included. I understand why people might be either apathetic or angry, both at once even, yet I personally can’t accept not trying to do something about the state of things.

It is in that spirit that I joined forces with Quaker journalist Judy Kirby, ex-editor of The Friend and a life-long reporter, to pitch a funding proposal to the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, more specifically their Power and Accountability strand.

Our idea was, in fact it remains, to train Quakers as citizen journalists focused on improving both our media and the quality of our governance structures. For me, as I explain in Fraudcast News – How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus Democracies, there’s no point in doing one without the other.

Though we failed to get any JRCT money, I think basically we pitched for too much as an unproven start-up project, we have done some useful work in preparing the application and road-testing our ideas. We will build on these during the coming months on a more ad hoc basis, as funds allow.

Our latest example of road-testing was in London earlier this month, where Judy and I took part in the Quakers and Business 2014 Annual Conference. The theme was Food – there’s a story behind everything we eat, making it particularly suited to talking about the benefits of Quakers taking to citizen journalism.

Below is the 15-minute talk that I gave as an event speaker. I basically argued that yes, there are many food stories we can tell as citizen journalists but what we also need to understand are the chronic failures of our political systems to respond to those stories.

In addition to talking, Judy and I were also determined to demonstrate our arguments by doing.

That entailed shooting a series of sample videos, on the eve of the conference and on the day itself, to showcase the potential of using a smartphone video camera to shoot no-edit video reports for web broadcast. Had that been our sole mission for the event, what follows would be a more comprehensive video series than the four shown below. These are still a good sample of what’s possible.

We did a couple of videos featuring speakers John Turner*, a smale-scale Lincolnshire beef farmer and co-funder of The Pasture-Fed Livestock Association, and Philip Lymbery, chief executive of Compassion in World Farming. These are the more conventional reports you might expect from an event such as this – allowing event non-attenders to get a flavour of proceedings.

In addition to these, Judy did her first publicly aired video interview – she, like me, having spent most of her career in print. It featured event participant Terry Hobday as the interviewee after she volunteered to tell her food story, one relating to researching the effects of poor nutrition on childhood behaviour and development. Terry then promptly accepted my challenge to take the microphone herself, conducting a debut interview with another volunteer storyteller John White having had only the most rudimentary training on how to do it. I was hugely impressed with the result – pure chutzpah!

The video series showed what is possible with nothing more than a smartphone, an attached microphone and some basic training in the shots template devised by those cunning types at visionOntv – Hamish Campbell and Richard Hering. Having spent decades of heartache trying to get activists to find their voices on camera, this duo have hit on a templates series for people to learn some very serviceable basics themselves.

Judy and I, during the coming months, are aiming to take this technique to Quaker groups around the UK. We’ve one event already booked for April – with the Quakers and Business group. We think it’s a potentially powerful tool to use as part of wider citizen-journalist efforts to promote positive-but-radical social change from the grassroots up.

Give me a shout via @PatrickChalmers if you think we can do something together.

* Correction made on November 27, 2014, John Turner’s surname was corrected from “Hunter”

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Fraudcast News reading and Q+A, London, Aug 1

Screenshot from 2014-07-18 15:21:44

When Patrick Chalmers hit on becoming a foreign news correspondent, he dreamed of somehow helping advance the cause of social justice around the world. When he eventually landed that dream job, he soon realised it had little to do with improving people’s lives. So he quit to work out where he’d gone wrong, in the process transforming himself into an author, activist and campaigner for better media and governance structures.

Among the results was Fraudcast News – How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus Democracies published in paperback and as a free PDF download. Patrick will read from the book and discuss how it relates to current political events at all levels, ranging from climate change inaction, renewed conflict in Iraq, Scottish independence or the rise of UKIP.

 

Screenshot from 2014-07-18 15:26:29

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