Bangladesh is one of the countries most impacted by climate change. On the coast of the Bay of Bengal, in particular, there is a severe lack of clean drinking water. The region is also affected by high levels of salinity, which harms crop cultivation. But how deeply does the mainstream media cover the consequences on people, particularly women, children and other vulnerable members of these communities?
This was the question we asked a group of journalists back in February 2019 at a workshop Internews’ Earth Journalism Network (EJN) hosted in Bhola, the largest island in Bangladesh and one that is extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels. It was the first workshop EJN organized as part of our three-year Bay of Bengal project, and our goal was to spark interest in resilience reporting among journalists working in the most climate-affected regions of the country.
The Bay of Bengal Climate Resiliency Initiative focuses on boosting climate justice and resilience in the Bay of Bengal region covering Bangladesh and India. Over the course of the project, EJN we’ve beeen working with journalists, educators and civil society organizations to produce and distribute reliable, actionable information to vulnerable coastal communities.
Now, as our Bay of Bengal (BoB) project nears the end of its final year, we’re starting to see the results.
“EJN’s Bay of Bengal project actually gave me a realization that I have not done much environmental reporting, even though I come from one of the country’s most climate vulnerable regions – Chittagong,” said Shamsuddin Illius, Chittagong bureau chief for the daily Business Standard newspaper.
“The difference that I see in myself and in my writing is that ever since I attended that workshop, I started writing on local issues, giving voice to local people and connecting those [to] the climate change discourse. This has increased the readership of my stories significantly,” he said.
Illius, who went on to participate in another EJN-led workshop and received a story grant, said he has also developed stronger working relationships with environmental experts in Bangladesh as well as with communities that lie in extremely vulnerable locations.
Over the past two years, our small but experienced Bay of Bengal project team has been training and mentoring grassroots journalists and helping them better understand climate change issues in their working regions and how they connect to global challenges.
In Bangladesh, the project organized workshops in Bhola, Satkhira, Bagerhat, Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar and Dhaka. We also awarded a number of journalists with grants to write or produce stories. All the journalists who participate in BoB media workshops are connected through a WhatsApp group so they can communicate with each other and share ideas and successes.
Illius, who received a story grant in 2019 to report on the shifting of coastal professions said the story earned him a strong standing among his media colleagues. (Read: Gone with shifting tides – how climate change is wiping out coastal professions, lifestyle).
“After attending the EJN Bhola workshop, this idea came to my mind when I got an opportunity to meet a community leader during my field visit,” he noted.
Through its story grants program, EJN provides mentorship support to grantees so their stories can meet international standards.
“Now I often write stories for a number of international media outlets, also,” said Illius. In his role as bureau chief in Chittagong, he encourages his fellow reporters to write more human-interest stories connecting local issues with global ones.
Support for women
One important component of EJN’s Bay of Bengal project is to help support female journalists, encourage them to write on gender issues and include the voices of women in their stories, since Bangladeshi women often won’t speak to male reporters.
In Bangladesh, there are almost no female journalists working in climate-vulnerable districts, and media outlets often don’t pay to send women to those locations. As a result, stories about the challenges women and children faces in these places are frequently missing in the mainstream media.
The BoB project supported a number of female journalists through workshops and media grants, and they are now writing more in-depth stories than before. EJN’s media grantees have also encouraged other female journalists to write on environmental issues.
“Receiving a mentor from EJN for the first time in my life has provided me a wonderful opportunity to understand that writing a good and compelling story requires thinking out of the box,” said Banani Mallick, who currently works for the Daily Observer, one of the country’s oldest English dailies. “From [my] EJN mentor, I learned how to focus on the issues and present the story interestingly, use multimedia, different character-based photography and what not.”
Mallick received a story grant through the BoB project in 2019 and is one of the female journalists in Bangladesh who attended the BoB workshop in Bhola.
“As a female journalist, covering the environment in Bangladesh is really difficult and there are very limited opportunities for a female journalist to grow in the field,” Mallick said. “After getting into all those EJN opportunities and because of the exposure I received through my stories published in different international media platforms, I can see now [a] few other female journalists are getting into environmental reporting and they are writing really good stories, bringing gender perspectives better than ever.”
The BoB project has so far supported six female reporters in Bangladesh through workshops and media grants. In addition to Mallick, they are: Antara Biswas (News24), Shadma Malik (the Daily Star), Jasmin Moli (Bonik Barta), Dilruba Shimo (Media Research Associate) and Shahinur Akhter Urmi (the Daily Observer).
Before participating in BoB project initiatives, they said their area of reporting was limited to covering daily political events, violence against women and development. After attending a few capacity-building workshops and receiving grant support and mentorship, at least five of them are regularly writing stories for their respective media outlets and also contributing to a number of international media platforms.
Mallick recently was awarded the Innovate4Climate 2019 Media Fellowship, by the World Bank Group in Singapore. She now contribute to Inter Press Service, a global news agency.
Her EJN grant-supported story about how female farmers in Bangladesh are batting climate change using new farming methods, has also brought an impact beyond her country (Read: Battling climate change female farmers in Bangladesh find new ways to farm).
“After reading my story, a French journalist contacted me and shared her plan to come to Bangladesh for producing a documentary,” Mallick said. “She later came to Bangladesh and made a documentary on the issue I covered in that story.”
(Banner photo: Banani Mallick and Antara Biswas, two of the journalists who participated in the BoB Media Workshop interview women from the floating fishing community in Bhola)