Environmental issues in Indonesia still need a huge push in the newsrooms in the country. Unattractive headlines, journalists’ lack of understanding, and high reporting cost, are among the reasons why environmental reporting is still trailing behind other topics.
Efforts to push journalists to consistently report on the environment are being done. One organisation that is leading the movement is the Society of Indonesian Environmental Journalists or SIEJ. Through various capacity building and support programs, SIEJ is committed to pushing environmental stories under the public spotlight.
To learn the importance of journalists’ role in environmental reporting, this edition of #envirotalk features SIEJ’s chair, Rochimawati or better known amongst her peers as Ochi. This edition is also in conjunction with the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, or known as COP26, taking place in Glasgow, Scotland, between 31 October and 12 November 2021.
How did your interest in the environment start for you?
Gardening, taking care of plants, and separating waste help build my awareness. When I joined SIEJ in 2008, I became more actively involved in environmental protection activities. The reason for that is that is all in line with my capacity as a journalist. Through my journalistic work, I am contributing to environmental protection in a different way.
As a journalist, what is your view of environmental reporting in Indonesia?
Since I joined SIEJ, I realised environmental reporting in the country is still limited. Only a few media that reports on environment consistently and capacitate their journalist with the necessary competence to write about the environment. When in fact, as a public information source, media should put environmental issue as an important part of their reporting agenda.
The environment is very closely realted to human life. A good or bad environment has a direct impact on our daily activities.
What are the under-reported topics?
In general, environmental themes are covered by media. However, they are often limited to straight news, so they rarely have depth. Investigative journalism, especially on the environment is very important to uncover the actors in environmental crimes.
The massive environmental destruction is a result of a systematic crime, involving powerful people and interested parties for economic gains without considering environmental and social impacts.
Producing a quality investigative report requires resources and huge funding. and in most cases, journalist’s safety is at stake when the facts presented in their story threatens the reputation of a certain party.
This presents a challenge, and at the same time an opportunity for journalists to highlight government policies and build public awareness to get actively involved in protecting the environment from irresponsible parties. That is why, media collaboration becomes a solution so many more investigative journalism can be produced to bring about change.
What are the challenges for journalists in reporting on the environment?
Covering environmental issues requires journalists to see firsthand the conditions on the ground. Indonesia is the largest archipelagic country in the world. The distance traveled, limited transportation options to access locations that are behind in their infrastructure, and the high cost of reporting are some of the obstacles that often make journalists have to give up their intention to cover environmental issues.
On the other hand, competency varies from one region to the other. That’s why, journalists must be given the opportunity to partake in up-grading programs and activities, to scale up their journalism capacity, starting from how to pick a relevant issue, or whether a story represents public interest, to presenting them in a more comprehensive and appealing way.
As the only environmental journalists network in Indonesia, SIEJ continues to bridge this gap. Many of SIEJ’s programs are focused on increasing journalists’ capacity through various activities including editors’ forums, public discussion, and reporting grants. We also continuously encourage journalists from various parts in Indonesia to publish their stories about environmental condition from their region on our site.
Let’s talk about climate crisis. What about journalists’ role in informing the public about the importance of it?
As a country that is vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis, Indonesia has been continuously hit by disasters and this should be sufficient evidence of the declining carrying capacity of the environment that has been severely compromised by humans. The real impact of the climate crisis has been felt by many communities in various parts of the world.
Another huge challenge for journalists in reporting on climate crisis is simplifying this kinds of global issues, making it more relevant to our everyday life. A good understanding of climate crisis issues can help build public awareness in adaptation and mitigation to slow down the rate of climate crisis.
You received a fellowship to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, November 2021. How did you get this opportunity??
In early 2021, I was chosen to become one of 12 individuals to receive a fellowship from Internews. We come from various countries and professional backgrounds, given the opportunity to partake in a year-long leadership program. As part of their program to empower journalists to report on the environment more efficiently, Internews chose two fellows to join their team to cover the COP26 in Glasgow. This opportunity is expected to support our role as environmental journalists.
To attend and cover the most important climate conference in the world in person is a rare opportunity, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic where cross-border traveling warrants many requirements to be met. I am very lucky.
As a journalist, I am interested in covering global policies that will come out of this conference, especially from Indonesia. As a country that many see as a climate superpower, Indonesia plays a key role in slowing down climate crisis. Indonesia’s latest commitment in the updated NDC needs domestic and international support. Collaboration becomes one of the success keys in protecting the earth from threats of climate crisis.
As the chairwoman of SIEJ, I also see this opportunity to introduce the organisation to the delegates at COP26 who come from a very diverse professional background and I hope this opens up many more opportunity to collaborate in the environmental sector.
The millennial and Z generations are considered to be more attuned to climate crisis. How do you invite them to become more involved in SIEJ’s programs that are environment-focused?
SIEJ really encourages the involvement of youth in its programs and activities, may that be as participant, speakers, even recipients to reporting grants. We also realize that youth has a huge influence in dissemination of information on social media. And that’s why we try to present content in a way that’s in line with their lifestyle and interest in environmental issues, such as newsletters and millennial-friendly Instagram posts.