Dangers of green reporting

BY hoot| IN Media Practice | 04/10/2009
The gathering of information alone is threatening for many companies, organised crime groups, governments…Environmental concerns complicate their plans.
A HOOT editorial on the Reporters Sans Frontieres report on threats to environmental journalists.

Even as an environmental activist in Manipur Jiten Yumnam  is detained under the National Security Act for waging war against the Government of India, there comes a special report from Reporters Sans Frontiers. It says environmental journalists are at the frontline of a new war against journalists, one that targets those exposing powerful polluters. Whether it is in Brazil or in Guinea-Bissau, or Egypt or Russia or the Philippines, journalists threaten the status quo where unhindered exploitation is concerned. As the report puts it, the increasingly vulnerability of environmental journalists reflects the new issues that have assumed an enormous political and geostrategic importance.


It observes,"There is a lot at stake in the environment. The first step in protecting nature is to carry out a detailed survey of the state of the resources and the way they are used. On the basis of this analysis • in which the press plays a significant role • political decision-makers can then establish rules and norms for economic actors and the public. The gathering of information alone is threatening for many companies, organised crime groups, governments and the various kinds of intermediaries that profit from misuse of the environment. Environmental concerns complicate their plans."


Yumnam is not a journalist, but his arrest reflects a new official will in tackling  those who question how land is utilized, and in whose interest it is deployed as a resource.  He has been an activist, working as a volunteer for Citizens' Concern on Dam and Development •"an organisation he co-founded to counter the negative impacts of development projects on tribal and indigenous people of the region." (Tehelka).  Environmental journalists in India have some protection if they work for the bigger, metropolitan-based media houses. Otherwise they are extremely vulnerable. Many independent, concerned journalists are freelance, many of them activists turned journalists.


The RSF report unfortunately has no  information on Indian examples, but it cites many other instances from across the world where both land use for polluting industrial purposes, and the act of pollution has been questioned  by journalists who have come to grief as a result. Ten years ago, in 1998, a conference of the International Federation of Environmental Journalists (IFEJ) held in Colombo, Sri Lanka had noted that the problems faced by environmental journalists worldwide included censorship, intimidation and imprisonment. That situation has far from abated over the last decade. It has probably got worse.


The following examples have been cited by RSF:"Guinean journalist Lai Baldé has been threatened. Egyptian blogger Tamer Mabrouk has been sued. Russian journalist Grigory Pasko has just spent four years in prison. His Uzbek colleague, Solidzhon Abdurakhmanov, has just been given a 10-year jail sentence. Mikhail Beketov, another Russian journalist, has lost a leg and several fingers as a result of an assault. Bulgarian reporter Maria Nikolaeva was threatened with having acid thrown in her face. Filipino journalist Joey Estriber has been missing since 2006… What do these journalists and many others have in common? They are or were covering environmental issues in countries where it is dangerous to do so."


In the wake of climate change becoming a central issue internationally, environmental concern and coverage in the  Indian mainstream press has been stepped up. There are plenty of stories  journalists can do without specifically targeting government or industry. But when it is a question of taking a stand on land allocation in the country's forest areas to Indian and International industrial interests, uncomfortable questions have to be asked in a sustained manner. That is where the crunch will come. Not if the journalist in question belongs to an NDTV or a CNN-IBN, but if he or she is a local journalist exposing local vested interests. Those of the former have gone  on to win awards, the latter could languish unheralded in jail.







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