Why Asia’s Young Climate Activists Are Missing from Global Media Coverage?


12 maart 2021
Auteur(s): Apisada Suwansukroj
As the world’s media gives Greta Thunberg, a Swedish environmental activist, a global platform to strike, the names of young Asian climate activists are being struck out.

by Apisada Suwansukroj 

Contributing Writer

Climate Change Journalism

Climate change is an ongoing issue and has been an important conversation for quite a few decades. However, this generation’s voice is louder. By using social media to amplify the voices of young activists and coordinate climate action agenda, the scattered youth climate activist effort was turned into a synchronized global initiative. The climate strike movement in 2019 became a global movement after Greta Thunberg quite rightly started advocating for climate actions in 2018. As the world is mostly keeping up with one activist, other young climate leaders sharing the same goals and values, who are equally or even more significantly affected by climate change, are being silenced and fading into the background. When activists across the world are advocating for the same wonderful causes, yet not all are given the same value or attention by the media, the question is whose voice is being left out. Even more importantly why?

Marginalizing Intentions

During the last few decades, articles and news about climate change have multiplied, along with various movements and documentaries. However, if looking at this from a qualitative perspective, it is possible to see some issues within this emerging abundance of channels. In the article on youth climate activists to follow on social media published in (www.earthday.org) in (2019), only 3 out of 19 are from the Global South and only 1 in the group of activists is Asian. Selective attention and news choices, though unintentionally, exclude alternative viewpoints that could offer significant inputs to the solution-generation processes. Shifting the focus from content to information dissemination patterns, constrained scheduling and access is another way global media marginalize climate activists. These practices slowly and subtly cancel the diversity and profundity of climate issues while strengthening the underrepresentation of the lesser-known climate activists.

Identity and (Mis)representation

"Greta of India"  "Thailand’s Greta Thunberg"

Remaining largely unknown to the global citizen, these activists are not just facing the issue of underrepresentation. These framing and discourses misrepresent their individuality. By using “Greta” as a figurative expression to label individuals and define their actions and intentions, it erases the individual identity of these activists and delegitimizes their stances and initiatives. Consequently, this influences public perception of Asian activists to be the “less than” and nourishes the notion that whatever initiatives take place in the global south are the result of what’s being advocated in the global north.

Narrowed Narrative

The western-centric attitude towards climate activism that the media has fabricated emphasises the misconception that everything that happens elsewhere is only a watered-down version of such environmental activism. This attitude and discourse have failed to recognize the synchronization and the robust dynamic of this global effort - which is a more inclusive way of presenting the subject matter. It is difficult to deny that spotlighting a handful of people creates more buzz and it’s easier for media consumers to have one person (or a couple at most) to associate all-things-climate activism with. Nonetheless, it is crucial to acknowledge that by doing so the media creates misleading mainstream discourses around global climate activism which could affect the way actual climate activism operates outside the media space.

Transformational Change

Now that the answer to the question why has been entertained, it is not a bad idea to ask the more positive question of how impactful it would be to showcase youth leaders around the world striving for transformation change - for the planet, for future generations and for equal media representation.

Upon acknowledging that the message (climate emergency) has gained its ground, it is clear that fair representation is needed in the media space. The media has the responsibility to be on the lookout for marginalized voices. Not only for the sake of fair representation but also for the sake of tackling the climate emergency The discourse should focus more on a global scale of collaborative effort instead of influencing misconception, comparison or division. Showcasing climate activism through an inclusive lens could amplify awareness-raising. The more people feel represented, the more people will relate to the issue, hence encouraging more care and likeliness to take action.

About the author: Apisada is a social impact practitioner based in Bangkok specialised in Media Development, Digital and Media Literacy and Communication for Development.

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