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3 Starting Points to Fill the Gaps in Energy Coverage

For the past three months, I’ve been conducting media research into Vietnamese media coverage of coal and renewable energy.
For the past three months, I’ve been conducting media research into Vietnamese media coverage of coal and renewable energy.

I’ve seen a lot which can be done to improve the quality of energy reportage but there are three gaps I think need to be filled to make energy stories more holistic and deeper.

Lack of Community Voices

The first gap is the lack of voices from the communities, especially those who are directly affected by the development of energy projects. I found in my research the common go-to sources for energy stories are government officials, business representatives, and researchers and scientists.

This reminded me of the time I was working for a daily newspaper in Ho Chi Minh City where I was assigned to attend three or four workshops or conferences per week. It is more convenient to interview those present at the events.

The thing is, I understand that journalists face a certain level of pressure when publishing for daily newspaper. We have to face limited personnel or financial resources for in-depth and investigative reports that need to be dealt with, I just hope that seminars and workshops are not just the places for producing one-off event-based stories. They should be the places for developing story ideas which can be explored deeper with stories from under-reported people who are not often given a platform to speak.

Focused through a business lens

The second gap is how most energy stories were looked at through a business lens.

I analyzed 268 stories and more than 70% of them were put under the business section and only 7% of them framed as environmental stories.

Energy discussion in major media outlets in Vietnam now is focusing more on investment and growth stories rather than human interest stories. One journalist I interviewed said that when a community is relocated following the development of a new power plant, they face many challenges adapting to the new living environments.

For example, they must find new livelihoods and share limited resources with existing communities. I think these kinds of stories should be told more often because they show real examples of how ill-planned energy projects affect communities and lead to social issues.

Lack of energy stories

The final point I want to emphasize is not really a gap in energy reporting but rather in the discussion about energy among journalists. What I do not see happening more often is discussion about media coverage of energy stories. As part of the research, I had to interview at least 15 journalists and editors. The number seemed feasible since I chose six outlets for my analysis. Much to my surprise, after reaching out to 35 media practitioners, only 14 agreed to be interviewed and only 10 agreed to speak on the record. There are many possibilities I can think of for this to happen: busy work schedule, lack of interests, self-censorship which makes journalists more reluctant to make public statements about their work or organizations and so on.

Whatever the reason is, I think the challenges in energy reportage cannot be addressed unless there are more open discussions on identifying the challenges. With that, I hope the media research that I was very fortunate be a part of can serve as the starting point for news organizations and journalists to encourage discussions to find ways to fill the gaps in energy reportage if their goals are to write stories that push for positive changes.

Nguyen Nguyen
Nguyen Nguyen is currently a fellow of the Sustainable Mekong Research Network (SUMERNET) hosted at the Stockholm Environment Institute in Bangkok, Thailand. Nguyen started out as a TV reporter covering financial and international news for a local channel in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Later, she joined the Viet Nam News newspaper as a staff reporter for the business desk.