For fourteen years, Anne-Cécile Bras has produced the environmental program "C'est pas du vent" on RFI. For her, the need for training of journalists in the field of ecology remains important in order to thwart the influence of lobbies, to inform on scientific facts and to report on solutions. This article is taken from our 10th publication "Mediation", available at this link.
For fourteen years, your program "C'est pas du vent" on Radio France Internationale (RFI) has been dealing with environmental issues. What are the media specificities of these issues?
Anne-Cécile Bras : The specificity of environmental issues, in my opinion, is their complexity: they have both a local and a global dimension, technical, economic, geopolitical... Take deforestation. Trees are cut down in the Amazon to plant soybeans and feed beef farms that will be eaten in Europe. Trees are cut down in Africa to cook food with firewood, or to gain agricultural land for population growth. Trees are cut down in Southeast Asia to make oil used in food products. Once this state of affairs has been established, how can we effectively fight against deforestation? Dealing with this subject means opening a vast box of intertwined questions. This is why it is important to educate the public, especially in a program with a large audience such as "C'est pas du vent" which gathers 5 million listeners.
With this in mind, our typical program combines a field report with a scientific perspective. The November 11 program, at the time of the COP27 in Egypt, highlighted the way young Fijians are reappropriating the practices of their ancestors in terms of agriculture, fishing or sociability to cope with the constraints of today's world. Then we gave the floor to a doctor in geography, who put this report in perspective with the global problem of island states facing climate change. I believe that we must give a scientific account of the catastrophic state of the planet, and at the same time this must not paralyze us: we must also make the partial solutions that are emerging everywhere on a local scale heard. Afterwards, it is up to the listeners to ask themselves: "What can I do?
So you think that the media can push citizens to take up ecological issues?
If only information could automatically lead to action... In my opinion, the media can inform above all, and they are doing so more and more in environmental matters. In the last four years, many journalists have been trained on these subjects. After the summer of 2022, with its intense droughts and fires, the major French media - AFP, France Télévisions, Radio France... - have made the environment and the climate a priority. Today, with dedicated programs in the first part of the evening, it even seems that the public service media are beginning to take charge of raising public awareness of environmental issues.
But this was not always the case. For a long time, the media was subject to the influence of the fossil fuel and other industries that tried to deny climate change or its human origin. And to some extent that influence continues today. Other industrial lobbies, those of electric cars for example, continue to push their communication in all places of power including the media. To resist this pressure, and to realize that there are not enough natural resources to replace all thermal vehicles with electric ones, journalists need to be educated. Let's take another example, the collapse of biodiversity. This subject receives much less media coverage than climate change, even though it is just as worrying. But the economic actors are less concerned about it than about climate change because there are fewer economic interests at stake, for example in the energy or transport sectors. And the media treatment is affected. It is up to journalists, not industrial lobbies, to choose and present to the public what is important in environmental matters.
Along with 1,200 journalists and dozens of media outlets in France, including RFI, you recently signed a "Charter for a journalism worthy of the ecological emergency "*. Why did you do this?
For me, two articles are essential in this charter published in Paris last September. Article 7, which invites journalists and the media to "reveal the strategies produced to sow doubt in the public mind" on ecological and climate issues. And Article 9, which invites them to "continuously educate themselves" on these subjects. We had the case recently at RFI: an interview with a minister broadcast on our airwaves seemed too conciliatory to the ears of four journalists more sensitive to environmental issues. We then went to see the management to tell them that according to article 7 of the charter signed by RFI, our media could not let such remarks pass without the journalist in charge of the interview strongly questioning them. This charter is therefore a powerful tool of vigilance in the hands of journalists. If these two articles are applied, it will no longer be possible to relay on our airwaves, as we did recently, a speech celebrating the discovery of oil off the coast of Côte d'Ivoire, without questioning the advisability of exploiting or not this oil deposit. This prospect seems exciting to me because... it is not the end of the world, but it is the end of a world. And how do we invent the next world? That's what's exciting to research as a journalist!
Box: Initiatives for green journalism
“The media is complacent while the world burns,” wrote Mark Hertsgaard, environmental reporter at New York media outlet The Nation, and Kyle Pope, editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, in April 2019. Their finding? Ten months after California’s deadliest summer of wildfires, several editors at major US media outlets were still expressing reluctance to cover climate change because of the small audience the topic attracted. “The role of the press is to inform people and hold the powerful to account,” they continued, noting that in the face of the climate situation, this responsibility was becoming a “requirement for our collective survival”. How can this be done? Drawing on approaches such as those of British newspaper The Guardian, Heertsgaard and Pope drew up a list of principles for covering climate issues in a way that would “engage the public”: Establish a scientific watch, treat the climate issue in a transversal way with other sections of the media, resist the influence of climate change sceptic speeches, listen to what the public - and in particular young people - have to say, and pay attention to regions particularly affected, offer reports suggesting solutions, and don’t hesitate to name those responsible for these disasters. In the wake of this founding text, they created Covering Climate Now, a self-help network of more than 500 English-language media outlets “large and small” covering a total audience of 2 billion people in 57 countries, in order to “cover the [climate] issue with the rigour and urgency it deserves”, and to “mobilize the public”. Three years later, Heertsgaard and Pope’s approach was emulated in the German-speaking world, with the publication in April 2022 of the “Charter of Climate Journalism Networks” signed by over 300 media professionals in Germany and Austria. And then in September 2022 in the Frenchspeaking world, with the “Charter for a journalism that meets the ecological emergency” signed in France by more than 1,200 journalists and dozens of media**.
Wolfgang Blau, co-founder of the Oxford Climate Journalism Network at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, is equally aware of the seriousness of the situation, and advocates a less emergency-oriented attitude. “Climate change is journalism’s greatest challenge,” he says in a February 2022 paper. But it is made up of so many complex geophysical phenomena, in so many places and over such a long period of time, that the event-driven logic of the media has difficulty reporting on it. Journalism will have to adapt to this “long and chaotic journey” that our societies will face in the decades to come. This means learning every day to “read” climate change, to understand it better, to see it as an opportunity to transform ourselves as media, so that journalism can “help us navigate this journey and keep our societies together”.
** See interview with Anne-Cécile Bras