Effective Journalism Creates Environmental Impact in Southeast Asia

October 10, 2007
During an investigative reporting field trip to Tam Dao National Park in Vietnam earlier this year, participating journalists were surprised to discover that a so-called ecotourism project slated for the park was set to include a casino and a golf course, hardly the most environmentally sensitive use of this biologically rich region.

As a result of the stories written by the journalists, the project was immediately downsized from 300 hectares to 190, and the national government is now reviewing it in detail for a report that will be delivered to the prime minister.

The journalists were participating in a biodiversity workshop organized by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network (EJN), based in Thailand, which was founded three years ago to strengthen coverage of environmental issues in the developing world, with a focus on Southeast Asia. The Tam Dao case is just one example of the many ways in which EJN has opened the eyes of developing country journalists—and their audiences—to environmental realities.

In Vietnam, journalists who had never seen a coral reef met one face-to-face and saw the destruction of the reefs up close. Cambodian journalists visited a community-based ecotourism project in the buffer zone of Kirirom National Park, staying in villagers’ homes and sharing a meal with them. In Vietnam, EJN is funding a team of journalists to conduct an investigative report on the illegal wildlife trade in Indochina that will be published later this month.

At Tam Dao National Park in Vietnam, in addition to their investigative work, journalists stood in the fog on a new road being cut into the park and listened to a scientist talk about the impact of infrastructure on biodiversity. At a workshop in China, Asian journalists came to understand how people could use efficient air conditioners that minimize both destruction of the ozone layer and greenhouse gas emissions.

To date, EJN has trained and mentored 335 journalists in subjects such as biodiversity, climate change, marine and coastal resources, trade and environment, and anti-corruption. Hundreds of stories have been published or aired in the local media as a result of this training.

EJN trainees have investigated and published stories as diverse as encroachment on a wetlands reserve south of Bangkok, human-elephant conflict and illegal logging in Indonesia, the relationship between destruction of the ozone layer and climate change, and the decline of the Irrawaddy dolphin in Burma.

But training journalists is just one tool; EJN also builds local capacity by fostering environmental journalism networks and NGOs, developing digital tools, providing grants and fellowships, and serving as an expert resource. Through it all, EJN challenges reporters to understand and convey vital environmental truths to the public.