CLIMATE AND ENERGY TRANSITION REPORTING IN PENINSULAR MALAYSIA'S MAINSTREAM NEWS MEDIA
A report by Lensa Iklim programme and initiative by Klima Action Malaysia - KAMY
Supported by European Climate Foundation
According to the IPCC, “averaged over the next 20 years, global temperature is expected to reach or exceed 1.5°C of warming”. This will result in loss of biodiversity, heat stress, drought, famine, floods and other severe climate impacts.
The report further mentions that “human actions still have the potential to determine the future course of climate” which gives us a sliver of hope to take action and provide solutions to mitigate the climate catastrophe.
“ Climate stories are criminally underreported in Malaysia ”
Has the news media in Peninsular
Malaysia conveyed this information
to its readers?
One of the main issues that news media houses in Peninsular Malaysia face is the lack of big picture reporting. Climate reporting has focused on events rather than examining root causes, as a result, climate issues are often underreported.
❝ There is a lack of focus on industry and how it affects the ecosystem. For example, Sungai Kim Kim in Johor. The follow-up [by media] was so brief, it barely lasted three weeks," Najmuddin (an editor at NST) says, "and that is an ever-present trend on climate coverage.❞
In Malaysia, most climate news often focuses on disasters, lacking substantial solutions, follow-ups, intersectionality, or preventative measures. News editors interviewed in this report believe climate coverage is "very brief and reactionary" and this is an ongoing trend in their reporting, exemplified in the coverage of recurring floods in Baling, Kedah, where despite persistent coverage, there has been little action or solution to the community's plight.
❝ Linking wider issues, such as food security, transmissible diseases, and even migration to climate change (where clear links can be established) is "critical", says Wong Siew Lyn, co-founder and editor of Macaranga.❞
Why are these issues
underreported despite Malaysia
being a climate-vulnerable nation?
Most news media houses in the Peninsula Malaysia do not have climate or environment desks while most journalists are on general beats. This creates a large gap in expertise and manpower in news rooms, leading to journalists being unable to explore deeper and impactful climate stories.
❝ They may practise an unofficial stance to prioritise these stories, but in reality, “it always depends on resources,” and other subject matters usually take precedence, such as politics and “the bread and butter issues”, according to one editor.❞
Journalists face challenges such as lack of funding and resources, leading to insufficient budgets, tight deadlines, insufficient training, and difficulty finding relevant sources and data. This hinders their ability to cover in-depth, multi-faceted climate stories.
❝ Although journalists can seek media grant funds to pursue climate stories, newsroom pressures may limit their capacity to commit to grant projects fully.❞
Issues of accessibility and availability of official government data on climate and environment, including the shortage of diverse experts to provide insights and education on these topics, are cited as major setbacks for mainstream journalists.
❝ The Star columnist, Dr Milton Lum, found a lack of information available from the government on the effects on climate change in Malaysia. Instead, he used data from NGOs such as the UN, World Bank, Global Forest Watch, and Asian Development Bank, to show how climate change has impacted Malaysia in the last few decades.❞
In this report, we examine the portrayal of key topics in Peninsular Malaysia's climate and energy transition journey.
AT THE KEY NARRATIVES :
Approximately 80% of greenhouse gases come from the energy sector, which is currently dominated by coal and gas.
Peninsular Malaysia still relies heavily on coal imports from Indonesia and Australia, but there is a growing trend in the media to shift away from coal due to its high cost of imports (largely due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine) and negative reputation. Yet, the Malaysian government has not set targets to reduce coal usage, and there is inconsistent messaging on retiring coal-fired plants and replacing them with more efficient fuel.
The National Energy Policy 2022-2040 did not set clear cut-off targets for coal, but gas definitely got a boost in the policy. Gas media coverage is typically reported in the business sections of media as hard news that features events, launches, and PR announcements by corporations and the government, lacking critical analysis of broader social, environmental, and economic effects of increasing gas usage as a transition fuel.
The media covers net zero targets pledged by Malaysian corporations leading to increased media coverage largely uncritical and without examination, but concerns about "greenwashing" are also rising. Some media outlets provide a critical examination of these commitments, including features on greenwashing and interviews with civil society and NGO sources for a nuanced perspective.
The media in Peninsular Malaysia often reports positively on the solar energy transition, but critiques of solar's intermittency and unsuitability to replace coal as baseload energy are common.
These pro-solar initiatives may accelerate growth in the industry and energy transition, but "details have yet to be ironed out", such as policies and "low take-up rates of rooftop solar quota among residential consumers and government agencies."
The media framed hydropower as a key pillar in raising the country’s renewable capacity by 2040. The Nenggiri Dam especially, has been reported positively in the media. Counterviews on the Nenggiri Dam project have been reported in a small number of articles in main news sections, which present the views of affected Temiar Orang Asli communities, but are largely absent in business pages.
The climate finance narrative in Malaysia has increased in recent years, focusing on national institutions and corporate initiatives. Despite a surge in the news before COP27, most coverage was republished from international newswires. Local initiatives for climate adaptation receive limited media coverage compared to the spotlight on mitigation, carbon market mechanisms, and financial instruments dominated by national corporations and regulators to reach Net Zero target. However, the need for transparency and alignment with current adaptation measures is stressed, as some stories view climate financing as a potential avenue for the misappropriation of funds.
Reports on carbon pricing across Peninsular Malaysia's news media houses remain limited to examining its advantages and challenges for implementation in Malaysia. Media sources cite carbon tax as a way to reduce emissions and generate revenue for green development but call for more information on how the funds will be utilised.
Most news focuses on intensive carbon sectors and financial institutions launching ESG as a pathway to their net-zero goals, while only a few articles recognise the importance of supporting MSMEs in their ESG journey. MSMEs are crucial in the supply chain for larger companies with ESG commitments, employing almost half of the workforce and representing over two-thirds of Malaysia's GDP.
Climate Change and Impacts
According to the UN “Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns … primarily due to burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas (for human activities)”.
News media in Peninsular Malaysia is increasing its coverage of climate-related topics such as flooding, coastal erosion, food security, ocean governance, and health, but human perspectives are largely missing.
Climate impacts severely affect public health and livelihoods, and increase the vulnerability of groups like young children, farmers, Indigenous People, the elderly, women and the disabled community.
Local news media in Peninsular Malaysia, in all languages, mainly republish COP UNFCCC coverage from international news wires and do little original reporting.
A commitment to personal action, according to Nadiah Rosli, another CCMP fellow writing about her first COP experience in an op-ed, "also means that every citizen has a responsibility to follow the science of climate change and to monitor the commitments and progress made (and not made) by those in government."
Very few news media from Peninsular Malaysia houses have access and funding to these multilateral spaces to report on COP, except for Bernama, the national news wire, having access and primarily covers the activities of Malaysian corporate and institutional delegates.
In general, news media reporting on COP26 and COP27 are oriented toward national, corporate, and economic interests, with sparse analysis of human interest stories. Malaysian delegates at these events call for greater climate adaptation and funding, and there are op-eds criticising the role of powerful elites in shaping policy through the UNFCCC.
Climate and Parliament
The unexpected deluge in December 2021, a rare 1-in-100-year event, caused the destruction of homes, businesses and factories, took more than 54 lives and left an estimated loss of RM6.5 billion. One catastrophic flood disaster has ignited the nation. Yet, less than a year later, the much-maligned "flood polls" of GE15 were underwhelming, with climate and flooding mostly absent from media coverage of political campaigns.
The 2022 Climate Change Symposium, which took place on September 5th in Malaysia's Parliament, was a rare and timely event. It might have been a landmark event catalysing a conversation on climate change among policymakers and parliamentarians, but it was poorly covered by the media.
Some of the key recommendations
across government and news media...
Mainstream news media should invest in developing a climate or/and environment desk managed by a specialised editor(s) to enable comprehensive climate/environmental reporting. Stories need to engage with technical issues and connect them with intersectional and wider human angles. The desk would provide dedicated resources for journalists, especially young journalists, to pursue further knowledge, gain technical expertise, and strengthen trust and familiarity with their networks through internal or external funding. The government, through relevant agencies and ministries, could allocate a budget for journalists' training, particularly access and financial resources to multilateral spaces like COP UNFCCC or CBD. Affirmative action in transparency would be to legislate a Freedom to Information Act for good governance.
These are just some of the highlights of the report. Read the full length by downloading the report below!
We hope this report is used as a source for media houses, policymakers, civil society organisations, and researchers to better understand the climate and energy reporting landscape in Malaysia.
Curated by Kucheal Arivalagan
Edited by Tessminderjit Kaur and Ili Nadiah Dzulfakar
Layout and Design by Bimo Kuncoro Yakti Prasetijo