Indonesian Radio Channel Gets Creative to Communicate the Climate Crisis during Covid-19

By Zahra Karim Didarali

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought numerous challenges to the way journalists report and has limited the stories they’re able to tell, forcing many of them to drop coverage of issues like the environment in order to focus on the public health crisis. But for Jakarta-based Kantor Berita Radio (KBR), the first independent national radio news agency in Indonesia, the pandemic was an opportunity to make its climate change coverage more relevant. 

Using a mix of live radio talk shows and videos, innovative outreach and personal stories, KBR is helping raise awareness about climate change by looking at how it intersects with Covid-19. 

Before the coronavirus outbreak, the station had developed a project called “What’s In It For Me?” Supported by a grant from Internews’ Earth Journalism Network, the project was designed to explore the different ways climate change affects people’s daily lives. The goal was to build public engagement through storytelling, in the hope of triggering a wider debate about climate issues between the public and policy-makers. 
That plan could have been derailed when Covid-19 took center stage, but KBR quickly moved to explore how concerns about the virus also related to climate change, producing content on topics such as energy use and forest fires that were both timely and relevant.

Between May and June, the station produced three talk shows.

  • “How to use energy wisely during the Covid-19 Pandemic.” (May 15) This show explored the links between energy consumption and climate change and discussed ways in which people could use energy more wisely at home to keep electricity bills down. 
  • “Anticipating a water crisis in Indonesia.” (May 22) With all the hand washing required during a pandemic, water use has gone up, but access to clean and adequate water supplies remains a huge problem in many parts of the country. The discussion during this show revolved around the reasons for the scarcity as well as environmental justice issues, and allowed speakers to share solutions.
  • “Forest fires and the dry season in the midst of Covid-19” (June 12) The third talk show, looked at how Covid-19 heightens the challenge of combating Indonesia’s perennial land and forest fires and could exacerbate health problems related to the blazes. Speakers outlined the public health links between Covid-19 and forest fires and discussed what’s being done and what more is needed to address the problem.

The key challenge for KBR has been ensuring the content is relevant to its audience. But Ardhi Rosyadi, an editor and producer at KBR, says they’ve tried to overcome this by bringing in diverse speakers – including experts, government officials, activists and community leaders – who can clearly explain the issues at both a national and local level.

“We believe that diversity of speakers is crucial because our audience is also diverse,” said Rosyadi. “Our radio talkshow is broadcasting in 34 provinces and each area is experiencing climate change in different ways. And for us, it’s important to make our audience feel connected with the topic, because we want them to feel that it’s also important and eventually take part and do something.”

Expanding to video, growing engagement

The talk shows have all been broadcast live as part of KBR’s flagship program Ruang Publik, which means Public Space in Bahasa Indonesia. To reach new and younger audiences they have  also converted them to podcasts that can be shared online and through mobile apps, such as Spotify

KBR also worked to grow its audience by recording videos of its talk shows and streaming them live on Facebook. The pandemic has now motivated KBR to carry out its shows primarily through online videos, said Citra Prastuti, KBR’s Editor in Chief. Content is pre-recorded and rebroadcast on YouTube and other social media platforms, with most newsroom teams able to broadcast from home and production carried out in the studio.

KBR has already seen the fruits of its efforts. During a typical one-hour radio talk show they might get between three and six questions (sent through call-ins or text messages). The transition to YouTube has seen this number jump, with 30 questions/comments offered in the third show on June 12, said Prastuti.

“What can we do as society? Because last year, we experienced land burning for five months and it was devastating for us. It will be harder for us in the middle of [the] corona pandemic like now,” read a comment from a viewer on YouTube during that June 12 show.

“From the comments and questions that we received throughout the talk show, we have a sense that the audience understands that we are living in the midst of climate crisis, by looking at their own backyards,” Prastuti wrote in a recent report on the project. “We believe that this is a good start to inform and educate public to understand climate crisis. Through our talk shows, we are showing that the impacts are real and happening now.”

In coordination with the talk shows, KBR also invites bloggers to listen to the live shows and then write blog posts as part of a writing competition drawing on insights and data shared during the discussion. Prastuti said they have chosen to target the blogger community because bloggers have the ability to continue the conversation and share information in a more practical way on their own platforms and among their audience. The three winners selected have all been women.

“Our radio talk shows play an important role to give ‘ammunition’ to their writings and also lights further curiosity to dig out for more information,” Prastuti wrote in her report. “The writing competition is a way to find new champions who care, understand and can campaign on climate change issues.”

As a final effort to extend its content as widely as possible, KBR has taken some of the best quotes from speakers and created short audio spots that it broadcasts up to five times a day in the week following the talk shows. KBR says it’s an attempt to reach listeners after the broadcast is over in a shorter, more straightforward way. 

The station’s creative new approaches are already brightening up climate change coverage, and it intends to broadcast more YouTube videos and plans to mainstream environmental topics into the station’s regular shows. Eventually, KBR plans to host talks shows outside of the studio with live audiences, one that it hopes will have grown bigger despite, or perhaps because of, the pandemic.

(Banner photo: KBR’s talk show, Ruang Publik is now broadcast on YouTube.)