Newsrooms have a duty to tell the truth on climate change, AFP chief says

Coverage may be depressing but facts are facts, Sophie Huet-Trupheme says

Sophie Huet-Trupheme, global editor-in-chief at AFP, at the Arab Media Forum in Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Climate change stories can be depressing, trigger anxiety and lead to news avoidance, but journalists have a duty to keep telling the truth, a senior media chief has said.

Sophie Huet-Trupheme, global editor-in-chief of Agence France-Presse, said it was important to show solutions to the crisis so people do not feel completely powerless.

Speaking at the Arab Media Forum in Dubai, Huet-Trupheme said the audience was huge every time a natural disaster struck, but journalists had a duty to keep readers engaged by moving stories forward and explaining why the disasters happened.

“It is important to keep telling the truth and the facts,” she told The National on Wednesday.

“The facts are terrible. But this is our job and we are not here just to, as one of our climate reporters wrote … create hope. That is not our business.”

Huet-Trupheme, who gave a talk at the forum on how life on Earth was at stake and newsrooms needed to hold decision-makers accountable, also outlined how AFP placed the future of the planet at the heart of its global coverage.

Climate change leads news agenda

AFP, which was founded in 1835, has about 2,400 staff around the globe and works in six languages.

Four years ago, AFP sent a “clear message” to its reporters that climate change was to be a top priority, she said.

The Covid-19 pandemic delayed the reorganisation, she said, but a new hub was created to allow reporters from different sections to collaborate.

“The idea was to have conversations between people in economics covering carbon emitters such as transport, energy and agriculture to join those covering climate and science and biodiversity," she said.

Another issue was engagement from readers, but she said this was changing and made reference to a recent AFP report on Iraq's Tigris River drying up that was among the agency's most popular stories.

AFP has focused on visual stories and explainers that are easy to understand and is keen to reach younger audiences who show greater interest in climate change.

“We launched this summer a new format for social media with vertical photos, videos and text so it is easy to access on social media," Huet-Trupheme said.

"For the younger generation – this is where they are to look at the news."

Fighting fake news

Turning to the issue of public trust in media and the proliferation of fake news on events such as the war in Ukraine and Philippine elections, Huet-Trupheme said her agency was worried but had done a lot of work to fight against disinformation.

"It comes from people trying to push their views," she said of elections. "Some candidates rely on disinformation.

“[We must] raise questions internally about how we are doing our job. [But] AFP has become the global leader in media to fight disinformation. It has become a huge operation for us.”

It started four years ago with one reporter and AFP now has more than 130 worldwide conducting fact-checks in more than 25 languages that it then posts on social media linked to the fake stories.

“This is an important action but not the only one," she said.

"[We must] use expertise to improve global coverage with these digital skills and put more stories on our traditional wires about disinformation.”

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Updated: October 06, 2022, 11:20 AM
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