News / 19.11.2010

Environmental reporting needs resources and expertise

Linus Atarah

These were some of the issues that took the centre stage in a seminar on environmental journalism here last weekend organized by Vikes Foundation and Environmental Journalists together with Yle and Finnish Association for Nature Conservation (SLL), to provide input into and raise the level of Finnish environmental journalism, said the organizers.

In a snap poll among a small sample of journalists, only 11 per cent of the respondents were of the opinion that the situation of environmental journalism in Finland was good but a vast majority, two of three, said it was only inferior.

Environmental news reporting according to one respondent, takes the back seat in relation to other news because “the issues are complex and the media do not want to spend time on in-depth journalism”.

“There is almost no investigative journalism on environmental issues”, said another.

Some of the respondents were also of the opinion that very few Finnish journalists have expert knowledge in environmental issues while the vast majority knows next to nothing even though their interest in environmental issues may be high.

According to Matti Nieminen, chief information officer at SLL, Finnish people are very close to nature and are very interested in environmental issues but media coverage has dwelt too much on entertainment and conflicts and that has taken away efforts at in-depth coverage of environmental issues.

Eeva Furman, director of Environmental Policy Centre a the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) observed that due to overwhelming dominance of climate change discussion in the past few years other environmental issues such as the loss of bio-diversity have been left uncovered in Finnish media.

Nigerian co-operation

Also speaking at the seminar, Nnimmo Bassey of Environmental Rights Action of Nigeria blamed western journalists in general for placing too much emphasis on conflicts when reporting Africa while failing to mention the west’s exploitation of natural resources in Africa which causes massive environmental destruction while the people are left in misery.

When covering the environment, “there is a lot of journalism that seeks to maintain particular arguments that is to sustain business as usual rather taking a more transformative perspective”, he said.

The solidarity organ of Finnish journalists, Vikes Foundation, is running a project together with ERA to train and network Nigerian environmental journalists.

According to the Nigeria Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency, a new government agency set up to monitor oil spills, there have been 3,400 oil spills in the delta region of the country over the past four years. That is about 800 spills a year, spilling more oil into the environment than the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

None of this is cleaned by the oil companies and it yet all goes unreported in the western media, said Bassey who is also chairman of International Friends of the Earth, and will in December tgravel to Stockholm to collect the Right Livelihood Award, aka the 'Alternative Nobel Prize'.

Gas flaring, most favoured by oil companies, is also another environmentally damaging practice that goes unreported in the western media. It is an illegal practice prohibited by law in Nigeria since 1984.

Roughly 23 billion cubic metres of gas, the equivalent of US$2.5 billion is being burnt away every year in Nigeria instead of harnessing it for industrial or domestic use. It is enough gas to meet the energy requirement of all sub-Saharan African except South Africa, said Bassey.

To protect the environment, Bassey calls for an international ecology tribunal along the lines of the International Court of Justice to try people who damage, pollute or destroy the ecology anywhere in the world.

“The environment is life itself and all our struggles are a struggle for life and death because nobody lives outside the environment”, said Bassey.

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