Public education campaigns to inform communities about the health impacts of climate change and the importance of mitigation and adaptation efforts have been recommended in submissions to the National Health and Climate Strategy consultation, as Croakey reported recently.
However, Croakey Health Media’s submission to the consultation argues for a more upstream approach – that there should be much greater focus on the structural determinants of our news and information systems.
One potential advantage of acting upstream is that safer, more reliable and relevant news and information systems could bring benefits across a range of public health issues.
As part of our ongoing series reporting on submissions to the consultation, below are our submission’s key points.
Croakey Health Media called for an additional objective for the strategy, which is central for achieving all other objectives: informed and engaged communities.
“Communities need to be informed and engaged in mitigation and adaptation efforts, and especially in relation to their health and wellbeing. When communities are informed and engaged, policy development and implementation is more likely to be relevant, equitable, effective and useful. This is particularly relevant for health and aged care services and providers that are trying to engage with climate mitigation and adaptation.
“The news and information ecosystem currently does not support communities to be informed about and engaged with climate mitigation and adaptation. The prevalence of climate misinformation and disinformation, the dominance of corporate interests with a vested interest in undermining climate literacy and climate action (including fossil fuel companies and corporate media organisations such as News Corp), the power of digital platforms such as Meta and Google (which are major vectors of climate misinformation and disinformation) and a weakening of the public interest journalism sector (leaving many communities without access to reliable local news) all have contributed to harmful delays in the implementation of effective climate action.
“As a result of these delays, communities will increasingly bear the burden of climate disruption affecting wide-ranging determinants of health, including access to food, housing, and safe living conditions. Communities will have less capacity for responding to the increasing intensity and prevalence of extreme weather events if they are not supported by reliable, relevant and safe news and information systems.”
Principles at stake
The Croakey Health Media submission states that the six proposed principles for the strategy all are relevant for the proposed additional objective.
First Nations leadership. This principle is also important for developing and supporting reliable, relevant and safe information and news systems. We note also the leadership of the Koori Mail newspaper in supporting communities in the aftermath of flooding in 2022.
Tackling health inequities. Privileging the voices, knowledge and experiences of those most likely to experience adverse outcomes from climate disruption is foundational to preventing and addressing health inequities. Equitable access to reliable, relevant and safe information and news systems supports this principle.
Population health and prevention. This means ensuring communities have reliable, relevant news and information for preventing and addressing health concerns during an era of escalating climate disruption.
One Health. The dominant understanding of health in the community is very individualistic. It does not generally encompass planetary health or One Health concepts. Again, this illustrates the importance of ensuring communities have access to reliable, relevant news and information so they are empowered to contribute to mitigation and adaptation within these more holistic concepts.
Evidence-informed policy making. Governments are often reluctant to implement evidence-informed policies, especially in the areas of climate mitigation and adaptation, if they do not perceive strong community support for such policies. This underscores the importance of ensuring reliable, relevant and safe news and information systems that will help inform and engage communities in supportive, effective, equitable policies.
Partnership-based working across all levels of government and beyond. This principle underscores the importance of collaboration across sectors, silos and jurisdictions. Reliable, relevant and safe news and information systems are vital to enable this way of working, by sharing news and connections and helping to break down traditional silos and vested interests seeking to maintain the status quo and oppose climate action.
Health in All Policies
A Health in All Policies approach is required to enable policies that support development of a news and information ecosystem that is reliable, relevant and safe for communities engaging with climate mitigation and adaptation, Croakey Health Media submitted.
“It requires policies to tackle misinformation, disinformation, racism, and polarisation, as well as the market dominance of digital platforms such as Meta and Google. It also requires policies that support social cohesion, equity, digital inclusion, media literacy, health literacy and climate literacy. It means developing media policies that support a more diverse and sustainable news and information ecosystem, including through the development of philanthropy and reforms to support the growth and development of not for profit media organisations.
“It also involves concerted efforts to tackle the problem of ‘news deserts’ – communities (whether geographic or other forms) that currently do not have access to reliable, local news and information. Many more communities are under-served in this respect; they may have a local newspaper or a local Facebook group, for example, but these news and information sources are under-resourced and ill-equipped to cope with communities’ needs for reliable news and information during an era of escalating climate disruption.”
In a section where the consultation paper proposes that communications and engagement be seen as “an enabler” of the Strategy, Croakey argued that communications should be understood as a structural issue, rather than as being about having a “communications strategy”.
“Developing a reliable, relevant and safe news and information system requires structural change and a whole-of-government effort as outlined in previous sections,” we stated.