Monday, August 06, 2007
Journalists and the environment
I googled fiji news topix and found this article from New Zealand via 'Scoop' and the Fiji Times and Fiji Post ran similar articles yesterday.
To me, this is just as important as news of nurses on strike being arrested with their signs.
Journalists Should Boost Ocean Awareness
Tuesday, 7 August 2007, 9:20 am
Press Release: Pacific Media Watch
Journalists Should Boost Ocean Awareness, Says Educator
The health and wellbeing of Pacific Islanders are inextricably linked to the health of their ocean, which is under threat from internal and external sources, says a journalism educator. Shailendra Singh, divisional head of journalism at the University of the South Pacific, said journalists as guardians of the public interest should be at the forefront of creating awareness about ocean conservation.
Singh was guest speaker the opening of this year's SeaWeb lecture series for journalists in The Fiji Times board room in Suva.
Addressing journalists attending the series, he said that in developing countries such as ours, journalists could play a vital role in informing the public and helping it influence how their governments balance economic growth with sustainability.
Singh added that externally, threats such as over fishing and fishing piracy posed a grave danger given the commercial pressures on the world's tuna fisheries.
Internally, the run off from indiscriminate use of fertilisers, land clearing, deforestation and unregulated coastal and inshore fisheries were destructive.
"You the reporter cannot dismiss stories about the environment as not being of interest to the reader as maybe before," he said.
"The environment has always been a major public interest issue, it is becoming more so nowadays. As a journalist, you are duty bound to start taking notice of and reporting about the environment simply because the health of environment has a big impact on the health of our nation and people," Singh said.
The positive role that the media could play was demonstrated by its coverage of the locally managed marine areas, Singh said. Under this scheme, fishing is banned in some places for a period. "The amount of fish that was harvested after the close of the taboo period in some areas had not been seen by many people in living memory. The publicity created awareness and influenced a lot of villages to join the programme."
Singh said in April a report by USP journalism students probably halted plans by the Fisheries Ministry in Fiji to release an invasive species such as tilapia in new waterways. He added that because the media was the primary source of environmental information for most people, it had a heavy responsibility in keeping the public informed. He said environmental stories had to compete for space and airtime with politics, entertainment, the economy and business and usually lost out.
At the time of instability, such as the coups in Fiji and the civil unrest in the Solomon Islands, the environment was put on the back burner, and it was up to the journalists to keep the public attention focused by ongoing coverage, he said.
Internationally, Singh said the public mood was changing towards news stories about the environment.
"Studies have shown that public demand for these stories is high. You can see and sense this in the media, if not locally and regionally, then in the overseas media and online. One reason is that as the environment deteriorates and people's health and livelihoods become adversely affected, they are becoming more concerned and hungrier for information." Singh added that journalists themselves had fuelled concerns by reporting on the environment, creating awareness and causing the public to demand answers. Singh added that environmental issues such as sea level rising were global issues and as such, international stories.
He added that environment stories often encompassed many other issues. For example, the economies of many Pacific Island countries depended on the fisheries sector, which because of the huge sums of money involved, had become hotbeds for corruption, Singh said. "A story on logging in the Solomon Islands is also about the economy as the Solomons economy, while the fastest growing in the Pacific, is based on just one rapidly growing natural resource, timber.
"It's also about governance as successive governments have mismanaged the Solomons' Forestry," he said.
The SeaWeb lecture series is a crash course in marine science for journalists. The course was first introduced last year.
SeaWeb's communication analyst, Vasemaca Rarabici, said the Course will include a series of marine lectures presented by marine experts from Government; NGO's and the private sector. She said the purpose of the lectures was to provide members of the media with the foundation of basic science knowledge they need to report on complex ocean stories.
"Lecture topics range from fish biology to ecosytem linkages to the climate. Participants will also meet local ocean experts and explore their research during fieldtrips specially designed to enhance understanding. The Course will take place over a period of six months where Journalists will meet twice every month," said Rarabici.
Seaweb is an NGO, a US-based Communication Company that helps bridge the gap between marine experts and the media