Environmental journalist Sharada Balasubramanian is based out of the city of Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu. She was one of the Deutsche Welle Climate Change Reporting Fellows of 2013 and collaborates with journalists reporting on environmental issues across India and South Asia. Sharada reports mainly in English but also in the regional language Tamil.
Her focus areas include “climate change adaptation, farming, environmental issues such as water and biodiversity.” She writes for Specialized environmental magazines, publications and portals such as Terragreen, Rural 21, Climate News Network, Village Square, etc. Sharada’s audience is global with access to policy makers, stakeholders in the field of environment, students, and researchers in India, especially South India.
In Sharada Balasubramanian’s opinion essential connecting scientists with local reporters is key to improve regional climate reporting. This could be achieved “through workshops and fellowships” Strong communication and trust must be forged between regional reporters and scientists with emphasis on discussing and explaining data and other relevant research that has been done, and how it is to be conveyed in layman’s terms in a news piece or a climate change story. “Interaction of experts in engaging with the media is the key.”
English, Tamil and Hindi are common but the media landscape in India is complicated by the Urban-Rural divide as well as the multitudes of languages spoken by 1.6 billion Indians – After “Hindi, the following languages (arranged in descending order as regards numbers of speakers) are each spoken by more than 25 million Indians – Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Odia and Punjabi.”
According to Sharada “Twitter or maybe Facebook as social media tools” are the fastest ways to reach people and the media format preferred by her audience. Coimbatore is a prosperous tier II industrial city in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and is a textiles and engineering hub. Prominent industries of the city include “cotton textiles, motors, pumps, automobile spares, textile machinery manufacturing, castings, machined parts.”
While climate reporting is mostly in English, regional media is catching up according to Sharada and beginning to covers few of these issues, e.g., protests against the GAIL ltd. hydrocarbons project in Tamil Nadu, wind and solar energy implementation, protests against nuclear energy as well as community efforts to clean up water bodies across Southern India.
According to Sharada, “English, being a predominant language, and appealing to a global audience, media houses are keen in understanding climate change issues, and hence these stories have more chance of being picked in English by the international media.”
Although as seen with reporting on the news of the political situation in Tamil Nadu there is a global Tamil diaspora following Tamil News but it is not the go to for environmental topics. One reason for this disconnect is attributable to the previously mentioned gap between the scientific community both national and international and regional [Tamil, in this case] media.
As Sharada puts it “There are dedicated news sites which exclusively cover climate change like Climate News Network, Climate Central etc. Since there is good amount of funding that is given for such kind of stories, reporting is done on a regular basis by journalists globally. People do care, if it shows impact in the areas they live, and sometimes to understand changes in weather patterns globally. I think people are interested in it.” The win by the citizens of Bengaluru, Karnataka to stop an Rs. 1,800 crore steel bridge project that sought to uproot city’s 800 ancient trees could be attributable to citizen journalism and activism committed to the cause.
The media can influence people’s thinking on environmental issues, according to Sharada who has been reporting on environmental issues for over a decade the need is to stop focusing on doomsday scenarios and scare tactics and to focus on “right data, anecdotes and realistic projection of climate change issues.”
“Solution-based stories like climate change adaptation can help governments understand coping mechanisms on the ground, and how that can be expanded to larger vulnerable areas. It helps policy makers and government to make decisions related to climate change disasters that are likely to emerge.”