Reviewed by Frederick Noronha
Journalism is obviously an imprecise science. As has been pointed out: while science tries to be deliberate, precise and reflective, journalism is fast, imprecise and keen on drama. Yet, what would science be without the public outreach that the media offers? You could say the same for environmentalism, even if the latter is more of a social movement trying to influence the political process by lobbying, activism, and education so as to protect natural resources and ecosystems.
Many younger journalists (and a few not-so-young ones too), including media students, have their heart in the right place. They have a natural inclination towards the environment. But here is the dilemma: how or where do they get started?
The other day, I was pleasantly surprised to see two copies of Santosh Shintre’s handbook — published both in English and Marathi — reach by the post. Santosh had been in touch with me via email earlier, though one had all but forgotten our conversations.
Environmental journalism was one of the themes I too have had a soft-corner for during part of my journalistic career, in particular in the 1990s. Some of my employers encouraged my interest in this. But then, in post-Liberalisation India, the space for writing green simply dried up, thus putting subtle and not-so-subtle pressures on freelancing choices.
With Keya Acharya of Bangalore, nonetheless, more recently I co-edited a book called The Green Pen, where senior environmental journalists across India shared their experiences. Because of another of my interests, in cyberspace, I founded by happenstance the India-EJ mailing list for environmental journalists in India. Today it is run on Googlegroups by those still active in the field.
But contrary to the impression this all might create, I too would often be struggling to understand this vast field. More so, given that my background is not in the Sciences and my Green commitment stems from my heart and feelings about the need to go in for sustainable growth, whatever that might mean.
Shintre — and his publishers, the Sakal Group — have done the media a favour by packing this useful information within a set of reasonably-priced covers. One is not too sure how much of an interest will be shown by “NGOs and people” in such a book. Yet, it is certainly a must for every journalist, for every journalism school, and for every newspaper library (high time we had more of these) to stock and frequently refer to.
What makes this book so easy to recommend? Firstly, it has a whole lot of useful information, neatly classified and packaged in an easily digestible manner. Secondly, its focus is primarily India-related, something which a fast-growing media sector (unlike in the Western world) badly needs more of. Its get-up is good, as is its colour printing, and its price adds to the product. In a word, if you have the slightest interest in the environment and are in any way linked to the media, there’s no way you can afford to miss this book.
Pune-based Shintre’s first line in the Preface itself is telling: “In a country like India with 82,222 newspapers, 312 radio channels, 626 television channels and 700 upcoming FM channels, space and time allotted in the media for coverage of nature and environmental issues is less than 1.5%. It is even lesser in the regional media….” As he points out, over 80% of the common people learn about nature and environment-related issues through the print or audio-visual media.
In a situation where the public has high expectations of the media, but the latter is caught up with various constraints and systemic loopholes, the onus is even more heavy. Conscientious journalists can help to reduce this gap by vaccinating themselves against ignorance. Such books offer valuable information in a nutshell.
In 12 succinct chapters, EERI takes you through the background you’d need to get started — and do more — in this field. For instance, useful discussions come up in Chapter 2 about a code of ethics for environmental journalists, the skill set they need, and an apt comparison between conventional vs. investigative journalism. One may not agree every time, but it’s good to have such issues come up for discussion.
Chapter 1 itself starts by listing and briefly explaining the “critical issues” India faces in these fields. Ranging from apathy of the citizens and institutions, to having a “mistaken model of ‘development'” where the people’s needs hardly feature. One crucial point also is, you guessed right, the negligible coverage of the environment by the Indian media.
Other chapters go more in-depth into sustainability, biodiversity, water, forests, land-based resources, wildlife journalism, laws and governance, climate change, among others. All in all, a good introduction to a wide range. The 15-page glossary explains terms ranging from abiotics (nonliving) to carbon sequestration (long-term storage of carbon in various forms) and much more.
Needless to say, no book, however ambitious, can think of itself as complete in all respects. While there’s a good attempt to cover pan-India topics here, a number of local, region-specific subjects are likely to be still awaiting coverage. For that, a reader would have to think-nationally and apply-locally.
A lot of thought has obviously gone into this work. It fills a gap that any editor or journalism-educator would easily admit exists. Now is the time to ensure that it gets adequately noticed and read.
Ecological & Environmental reporting in India
The Handbook for Media, NGOs & People
Sakal Publications. Pp 224. Rs 490. 2012.