Vietnam’s efforts to reduce its dependence on coal, one of the highest in Southeast Asia, are the subject of much political debate and media coverage. But most of that coverage has been confined to the business sections of news outlets. However, it is the human side to the story – the perils of living near polluting power plants, or exposure to climate change impacts – that is more urgent and compelling. With the right guidance and a shift in focus, the country’s reporters could write more engaging stories and become effective advocates for a clean and just energy transition.
In terms of sheer quantity, journalists have been increasing their reporting on renewable energy over the past two years, particularly chasing solar development stories across the country, according to a recent report by climate journalism support network Climate Tracker. But more than 70 percent of energy stories in that period appeared in the economy or business sections, the study found, and only nine out of 268 articles quoted community voices. Journalists continue to prioritize official sources and viewpoints, and many seem to see the media primarily as a platform for business feedback on government plans.
Energy production may be rooted in technology and driven by economics, but it is first and foremost a human story that affects every reader’s life in countless ways. Whether a country pursues polluting or clean energy projects determines the living environment for thousands of people around project sites. Large polluting power plants can displace an entire community leaving them without the means to rebuild their lives elsewhere. Furthermore, energy access is a key social justice issue in developing countries such as Viet Nam, where many off-grid communities in mountainous areas have higher percentages of ethnic minorities who are already disadvantaged in various ways.
The energy question is particularly topical as the country is to embark on its eighth Power Development Plan in 2021. Engaging more with stakeholders in the field can give journalists more diverse perspectives, and more opportunities to interact with those most affected by energy policies.
A good energy article needs a clear human-impact frame and diverse sources, but it also needs an engaging presentation. In today’s news landscape, this means offering the story across a range of platforms, devices and media. News consumers expect articles to use more than just words to tell a multifaceted story.
In Vietnam’s digital news outlets, though most articles use at least one image to break up text, effective data visualization is still very rare. Interactive graphs, charts and maps are only present in two percent of the total article sample. Tuoi Tre journalist Ngoc Lan shared with Climate Tracker’s researcher that since energy policy is a challenging, technical topic, she struggled to find the right words and visuals that would “translate the language of policy…into a more reader-friendly language.”
To support diverse and critical energy reporting in Vietnam, Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung (FES), GreenID and Climate Tracker organized a training on energy and climate change for 16 of the most promising journalists and journalism lecturers in the country, on October 18-21. The course provided insights into energy’s human impacts, as well as lessons on telling stories using innovative journalism tools such as Flourish, Knightlab’s Timeline and Storymap.
“I really appreciated how this workshop brought together experts with different areas of expertise and perspectives on the energy sector,” said Mai Dinh Khoi, journalist and documentary film producer at state-run news channel VTC14. “Their discussion gave me new insights on the topic of climate change and energy that I never had before.”
Mai Hoang is the South-East Asia Lead at Climate Tracker.
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