Media appear to miss big picture on environment


Media coverage of environmental issues differs from one nation to the next. In North Korea for example it would be non-existent, whilst in a free country like New Zealand the media are able to research and report on it with relative ease then. So are we, the public, who rely on the fourth estate being told all that we need to know about the environment?

But how often do we hear about less sexy stories such as the leakage of toxic substances from e-waste into our ground water system? How often do see discussion of the ecological footprint that measures our use of resources? how often do we talk about acid rain or even the acidification of the oceans?

These are background issues going on. They are not sexy in the sense of being appealing to a reporter. The reporter might not have an editor who terribly cares for particular aspects of the environment, thus, even though they might be key parts of the bigger picture, these issues continue to be ignored. Perhaps there is also a bit of self censorship going on. A reporter makes their name by the number of articles they can get to air. If they find that their articles are not being accepted by the editor, it is reasonable to assume they will look for subjects that they can report on, where a reporter can get exposure.

In New Zealand the sexiest issues are fresh water and climate change. We all want clean water to drink. We know that nitrates getting into the ground water and into surface waterways contaminates the water. We know that cattle in water ways tend to defecate and urinate, which may introduce micro organisms (tiny pieces of poo)into waterways. The perception (both true and false – or exaggerated)about drinking water with such organism in it is obviously going to generate public angst.

New Zealanders also want – though they might not be so willing to make changes to their habits in terms of their preferred modes of public transport – to reduce carbon emissions. Politicians to varying extents agree that public transport and greater use of railways is necessary and there is much coverage around this. But, despite having demonstrable links to those same carbon emissions, the acidification of the oceans is not such a major priority. Despite acidification directly threatening the food chain in the ocean, the potential destruction of the coral reefs and completely destroying tourism and fishing industries in tropical nations, it does not seem to have attracted the same level of attention.

Perhaps also some issues such as acid rain, or electronic waste are too complicated to fit in a 30 second sound byte that has to tell the gist of what people need to know. Explaining that substances such as americium which is used in smoke alarms might get into ground water if they are just deposited in dumps with no protective cladding lining their base, might be possible, but how many people would know what americium is? It would be reasonable to suspect that not very many do.

 

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