Recommendations on environmental journalism



Posted on 11 March 2009  | 
  • Environmental journalism can act as a bridge between state and federal government, between governmental and non-governmental institutions, and between India and other countries. This bridge will complement the governmental efforts of creating an information sharing system. Mass media should cooperate with the creation and support of a national and international information sharing system for the stakeholders concerned with wildlife conservation. As a result, this will enable them to share up-to-date information on poaching and seizure cases, legal measures taken and on innovative approaches to tackle illegal trade.
  • One of the main points of the discussion was the importance of programs that enhance sustainable livelihoods. As WWF-India states, this program should be used to “provide strategic/technical support guidance and capacity building to or for field projects” (World Wide Fund for Nature - India, 2008, online) that encourage the preservation of diversity and sustainability. Environmental journalism should emphasize the need of a concerted effort between government and non-governmental organizations to amplify cooperative banks and local micro-credit institutions which can play a key role in providing loans to villagers in connection with the conservation initiative. Environmental journalism should publish this kind of stories or achievements in order to encourage community participation and avoid apathy towards the natural wealth of the country and the region.
  • Engagement with local people is clearly a key component of any strategy to resolve wildlife-human conflict. After all, it is the local people who are experiencing the costs of living alongside wildlife, and hence, are those most likely to kill wildlife, legally or illegally. If the forest communities are granted a stake in the benefits of conservation, things could be better. Besides, local communities also include local journalists. It is they who can start investigations about environmental cases in their communities; it is they who can start questioning the existing local wildlife management; it is they who can start creating awareness among their community and act as intermediaries building communication bridges between the government and the community.1
  • Environmental attitudes must become a collective behaviour. Most of the positive environmental attitudes or behaviours are carried out individually (the prototypical environmental act today is recycling—primarily an individual behaviour). Individuals are told they should buy green products, turn down the air conditioner, buy compact fluorescent light bulbs, drive less, buy more fuel efficient cars, and eat organic. Meanwhile, relatively little attention is focused on the vital need for systemic changes in collective behaviour. Environmental journalism can encourage this kind of behaviour by promoting political action, government incentives and subsidies for clean energy development, and increased regulation of polluters, etcetera. These are all examples of social policies and behaviours that are required to deal with the environmental crisis. Individual consumption and conservation, while important on many levels, are not enough to address the scale and scope of our current challenges.
  • Environmental issues lack urgency. While the sense of urgency about climate change has grown recently, it still is underappreciated, and we are running out of time to avoid the worst consequences. Meanwhile, climate change is just one of many global environmental stressors that have potentially disastrous consequences, yet barely (including ocean acidification, overfishing, patterns of consumption, and population growth) register on national and international agendas. Environmental journalism should focus on publishing stories that describe the urgency of taking action against environmental degradation. These descriptions should be realistic and should be based on interviews with stakeholders and include scientific data obtained from field investigations. The publications should foment the participation of audiences across the country and call to action.
  • Environmental journalists need to acquire specialized knowledge about environmental issues. Journalists should be able to correlate and analyze the several issues concerning environmental conservation. Journalists need to understand that environmentalism and conservation go beyond animals and plants. These issues involve aspects related to international relations, politics, economics, trade, sociology, social development, and education. During my interviews with senior journalists in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, I was told that in India universities offer very few subjects that link journalism with environmental issues. Therefore, journalists in India need specific and committed preparation so they can be able to understand wildlife/forestry issues and to communicate in an understandable way in order to create consciousness among their audiences. India needs broader environmental journalism programs in its universities. Scientific knowledge and training is essential for wildlife journalists.
  • Journalists must stop fomenting consumerism as the basis of self-identity with their stories. The desire for an expression of individual identity has become a major force in modern culture and societies. These desires have been amplified and exploited by marketers to sell products. Individuals now adopt distinct “lifestyles” or particular material products, homes, fashions, and hobbies that become both sources of individual identity and the means by which these identities are signified to others. This process helps to fuel consumerism, which tends to focus on a fast and easy way of life in which almost everything is disposable or not to last long. Likewise, consumerism is the base of economic and social structures of developing countries but also the primary engine of many developed economies. Economies drive much of the increasing exploitation and degradation of the global environment. And as personal identity becomes further entangled with consumer behaviour, it becomes harder and harder to challenge existing patterns of consumption and, therefore, existing patterns of collection, harvesting, and production or even ancient social traditions. People all over the world want nothing more than a better life for themselves and their families. But having a better life does not have to mean having more than enough or than we need. As Moulton states, “we must redefine our quest for a better life. A better life, a high-quality life, means living with nature not apart from nature.”2 That is why journalists should start making a difference by substituting news that enhance consumerism with those that foment environmental awareness. They must take advantage of two factors to promote environmental conservation: (1) the increasing interest on environmental issues among people around the world, including governments and (2) their “soft power” and ability to set preferences among society and mass changes in social values and behavior. However, environmental journalists should always be aware of bringing the debate back to wildlife/forestry issues and away from the politics or personalities.
  • New narratives. New narratives are needed to help guide and inspire social transformation and changes in the practice of science and education, religion and ethics, and policy and economics. Narratives ranging from sacred texts to national myths to individual life stories give meaning, order, and direction to the lives of individuals and entire societies. Environmental journalists in India should take advantage of the vast connection between nature and its endemic cultural wealth. By this I mean that journalists should encourage audiences to respect nature and act against environmental degradation by linking environmental issues to education programmes, social practices and religion. Journalists should be able to explore religious worldviews, texts, and ethics in order to broaden understanding of the complex nature of current environmental concerns3.
  • Establish environmental education as part of the core curriculum for journalists. The fact that so many reporting assignments now overlap with environmental news coverage presents newsrooms with a new challenge: editors need to make sure all reporters who cover environmental topics have adequate training to cover them accurately, with proper context and scientific grounding. Every news organization needs at least one person who is trained and qualified to be able to specialize in environmental conservation. For this, the Ministry of Education in India should develop interdisciplinary, integrative, and theme-based approaches to environmental education; it should focus in the development of subjects that teach about both local and global environmental change and the connections between these scales; it should also take care of developing courses, conferences, and curricula on worldviews and nature; it should provide field work experiences and exploration of local ecological processes and problems; and it should provide access to computer databases of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MEFO) for them to obtain accurate information. In order to keep an eye on these measures a working committee should be established on a permanent basis to review the status of environmental education, evaluate options for improvements, and coordinate inter-agency actions regarding environmental education.
  • Journalists should create evocative images to tell environmental stories and to grab audiences attention. Wildlife photography plays an important part in sensitizing the general public towards the importance of nature and helps in a better understanding of the inherited ecology. Wildlife Week 2008 was held in WWF-India during my volunteer program. As part of the events, WWF-India along with TRAFFIC-India held a wildlife photo exposition: “Expressions of Wilderness”. Amazing and beautiful pictures depicting wildlife were shown at WWF-India’s auditorium for one week. This made me think that written media in India should take advantage of the talented wildlife photographers it has4. These photographers not only have the ability to create evocative images but they can also tell a story through images, an easy way to get the attention of audiences. Therefore, an alternative for Indian newspapers and magazines might be new photographic approaches that stimulate readers’ thinking. Most of the pictures included in wildlife news throughout the paper clippings I had the chance to analyze did not transmit any message to me as a reader. Most of them have a very bad quality and most of the times do not match with the story that is being told. Photographers must strive to creatively catch the public's eye while remaining true to their journalistic roots.
Conclusions
The significance environmental stories need, will only be the result of a closer cooperation between Indian journalists with government and non-governmental organizations, communities, lobbying groups, as well as concerned citizens. A greater awareness among audiences will emerge only after journalists give wildlife/forestry issues the weight and importance they deserve.

What environmental journalism in India needs to achieve the latter is to have in mind three main objectives I found to be the centerpiece of this kind of journalism:
  • Being objective by incorporating the best aspects of traditional journalism: meticulous research, precise language, and fair reporting.
  • Environmental reporting should not only emphasize the existing problems, it should also focus on the solutions, i.e. exploring how technology and corporations might improve environmental problems.
  • To strive to educate people about the nature and importance of sustainable development or about the necessity to achieve both economic development and a sound environment.
  • To support dialogue between people in an effort to find solutions to the environmental challenges in the years ahead.
Finally, conservation in India requires a new direction. This direction can be conducted by environmental journalism. We all need to be part of the solution and journalism cannot be left out. The process of educating communities about the importance of conserving natural resources through journalism can be a slow one, but nothing is impossible.

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1 One alternative livelihood option sponsored by the forest administration consists in the Eco-development committees (EDC’s) and Forest Protection Committees (FPC’s) in all villages adjacent to reserve forests. FPC's, guided by forest officials, help create awareness about saving habitats and assist forest guards in patrolling. The EDC’s undertake basic development work, like making brick roads and irrigation canals, digging freshwater ponds, or vocational training and input in cottage industries. Villagers are encouraged to from self- help groups and start small businesses like rearing poultry, pigs and goats.

Even though this strategy sounds as a double sum game, where all the parts involved in the game win, animosity against the forest department runs deep. The problem is when these kinds of efforts become politicized. Financial requirements are barely met and there is a huge lack of manpower. The forest department team has to confront well-armed, well-trained poachers when they lack the necessary training and the necessary equipment to fight poaching, to keep communication and not even the necessary for dignifying life in the forests. The response to this is capacity building.

2 Moulton, M. and Sanderson, J. (1997) Wildlife issues in a changing world. Florida:St. Lucie Press.

3 The Forum on Religion and Ecology provides a rich discussion about the links of Hinduism and nature. Available at http://fore.research.yale.edu/religion/hinduism/index.html (accessed November 15, 2008).

4 Six wonderful Indian photographers participated in the exhibition: Akashendu Das, Satpal Gandhi, Bhumesh Bharti, Amritpal Singh, Md. Aslam Warisi, and Rajeev Mehta.

Rajaji National Park and its beautiful landscapes
© WWF / Diana Zazueta Enlarge

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