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Issue 92
, 2019
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Relevance of environmental journalism in today's world

Source: Dispatch-54, Date: , 2019

Mr. Arjun Dhakal has more than eighteen years of experience in the environmental and development sector. Throughout his professional career and academic background, he always concentrated in the areas of advocacy and research on Green growth and governance, public participation, natural resource conservation, energy, climate change adaptation, environmental health etc. He has been working with interest in interdisciplinary issues of scientific and policy-related territory. Currently, he is working as a senior environmental expert with SEEPORT based in Kathmandu and is also involved in different social and environmental assignments. He is the convener/moderator of Nepal Network for Sustainable Development (NNSD) since 2006, a well-recognized policy forum, where about 4000 people have been engaged in policy discourse from different fields including politicians, policy makers, diplomats, media and academicians. In the past, he has also worked as a consultant with various organizations like UNDP,UNEP, UNESCO, World Bank, IUCN, Asian Development Bank (ADB), SDC/SECO, IIED and Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) Bangkok. He was also the Executive Director of NGO Federation of Nepal and Executive Director of Rural Self-Reliance Development Centre (RSDC).In an e-mail interview with Toxics Link's Ipsita Baishya he talks about the role of environmental journalism in promoting public awareness and engaging policymakers for a greener tomorrow.

Q1.How relevant is Environmental journalism in today's world?

Well, I think the role of environmental journalism or communication has been increasing more now than ever before. The air we breathe is polluted, the water we drink is contaminated, the food that we eat has more pesticides and is toxic, disasters and their vulnerability have been increasing, we produce more waste than Nature’s carrying capacity. At this stage of emergency, only media and journalists can help in informing the general public about the environmental degradation and influence policy makers and business communities to work towards protecting the environment before it's too late. 

Q2. What is the role of the media in engaging policymakers?

Very important of course! It is only the media that can help build public opinion to influence policy makers and can play a crucial role in pushing for pro-environmental policies. For example, if environmental journalists make evidence-based stories on how our surroundings are getting polluted day in and day out and the ones causing it  irreversible damage, that really creates pressure on the policymakers to think about public life and makes it imperative for them to adopt environment-friendly policies. At the same time, the media can act as a link between the policymakers and the conscientious public and facilitate two-way communications too. This kind of vertical and horizontal communication inevitably makes them more responsible and accountable.  

Q3. How can we promote environmental awareness?

Providing fact and evidence-based information by all media channels is critical. This is not so easy always; but we need to have regular dialogues and communication with the scientific community and link them with social problems. In another way, regular society-policy-science dialogues helps to develop awareness at all levels. Technologically, we need to use all available mainstream media and social media to engage all interest groups and communities. Just take an example-conventional media is still effective for policy makers of the older generation and new age media like YouTube, Instagram etc are more efficacious for the younger generation, which are mostly consumers and voter groups. The new challenge for a toxic-free world is that all that we get today as consumers is from the farm to the table and factory to pocket. The issues are multi-dimensional and everywhere nowadays demand and supply cater to wide varieties with high volumes. Therefore, the awareness strategy also should be a multi-pronged one at the global level as well as the local level. 

Q4. Your take on IPEN's vision of a toxics-free future for the South Asian region?

South Asia is the home to half of the world's impoverished people and half of the world's illiterate population reside here too. So we have huge challenges for a toxic- free south Asia now. But for a better future, we have some underlying opportunities and advantages as well in that half of the population is under 25 years of age and this is the largest democratic region of the world. Therefore, we need to work hard to create awareness towards environmental protection amongst politicians; policy makers and the general public together to bring the dream come true. Only challenge for us is that we need to be more innovative.

Q5. What do you think are the big challenges for environmental coverage?

Firstly, lack of data and evidence!  We know the science but we need facts and figures to convince people to join the bandwagon. We need powerful stories to share with people. Secondly, the market force. The producer/polluters are much powerful to control and manipulate the media and often they are hand in glove. It is always difficult to get easy coverage in mainstream media on environmental issues which normally reports against indiscriminate profit-making business entities or manufacturers and dealers.