Friday, March 07, 2008

The state of environmental reportage! (Guest Piece)

Hi, as I had previously mentioned, I would start asking friends and senior people from the world of journalism to start writing guest columns for this blog on wider issues. This piece is a by a close friend and a journalist (of sorts) who is well-known member of the Indian conservation movement. I agree with a lot of what the writer is saying here. Possibly the best writer of environmental issues in the Indian media of the last few years, I would believe is Prerna Singh Bindra who I believe knows what she is writing about (unlike many of her peers), but that is just my opinion. Read on for this unsigned view of things!
EDIT : For those of you coming from DP, this piece is not by Prerna, but by an environmentalist who works in the media but is not a 'regular' writer or reporter. As one commenter picked up, he is popularly known as 'Birdy'.

In a recent slide show presentation of ‘Birds of Delhi’ at the India Habitat Centre (IHC), the author and presenter who remains unnamed here stops on a slide showing painted storks and comments, ‘For all Indian journalists these are migratory birds and they only come from Siberia’
In one line he sums up the deplorable understanding and reportage of environment and natural history in the India media. To understand this phenomenon let us go through some recent coverage.
Migration of birds remains an annual subject and the degradation of Keoladeo National Park (Bharatpur). Where every one hopes that the Siberian cranes will suddenly turn up. The ICF (International Crane Foundation) has long declared the central flock which wintered in Keoladeo extinct.
However recently Telegraph (Calcutta) wastes valuable newsprint on a recent copy! What is even more surprising is that they declare Peter G Kaestner as the world’s third-ranked bird watcher. This is a first for the entire birding world. Birders professional and amateur never knew of the ranking system before this, and I can write about this with conviction as I have been involved with the international birding community for most of my adult life.
But it is the Hindustan Times surpasses all by putting this on Page 1 with a picture of a Manchurian crane on Feb 23. This was generated from a ‘Sibe Hoax’ by a zoology student traveling on a train through Palwal in mid January. (K’s Note : The web-story does not have the image and HT archives cost a bomb)
But, if you thought it ended there, move over, here comes another headline which reminds me of the Akbar – Birbal tale of the emperor questioning Birbal on the number of crows in his kingdom. Have a look here (though this is an agency copy)
How on earth someone can report on an exact figure?
Next, let us move to the reportage on Bird Flu/Avian Flu/H5N1 which has taken considerable airtime and newsprint in January. When the country most oldest and premier conservation outfit especially in avian sciences BNHS (Bombay Natural History Society) states that the migratory birds are not responsible for the disease.
And this is what Mail Today reported immediately on Jan 30.
And see what happens when someone goes to see birds and does a bird count which is below expectation in the peak of migratory season. Read on. Another annual favourite is the disappearance of sparrows. I personally have tracked from 2002 till time present that the India media cannot forget the house sparrow irrespective of its present status.
A few years back I still remember Outlook Traveller put up the enigmatic black necked cranes on the cover and captioned them as black storks. I read the TOI daily and I find species irrespective of its status whether it’s a stork, duck or a gull, everything is labelled as migratory. Off course they are local migratory is one has to put in the right sense and that they don’t sit out everyday for ones viewing pleasure.
Earlier in the week one reporter from a tabloid was quite desperate to do a story on a bird known as the pied harrier which I reckon is a seldom winter visitor to these parts but nothing to write on or worth a story. But after explaining her on detail about its frequency of sighting and status and that it doesn’t deserve newsprint attention she went ahead as she though it was the rarest sight to put it in newsprint and the photo supplied by an acquaintance.

The tiger remains the toast of the media and there sole concern is with the right statistical figure. How many? 2,500 or 3,500 or 1,411 tigers in India
Anything and everything to do with it is immediately reported while hundreds of other species are pushed everyday to extinction. I seriously contemplate if anyone actually seriously thinks of the word ‘Extinction’. Once gone you just cannot bring it back. Every species big or small has a definite roll in the ecological cycle. This is elementary school science not any higher than that.
After three years when Sariska was wiped off its tigers and the recent GoI’s disclosure of Tiger numbers (the field data is a good two years old). NDTV starts a campaign to save the tiger and reports last weekend how unprepared Sariska still remains. 1000+ villagers still inhabit the park and only one village has been relocated. The highway is still running through with a recent leopard road kill to boast. Thousands still visit the temple and forest guards with hardly any infrastructure to tackle poachers as well as highly understaffed.
Within 2 days of this television report TOI reported how 3 tigers will be released as the state government has given verbal assurance in the parliament
So here we are to sacrifice three more tigers? 3 more goes from 1,411. Though that said, the reportage of environmental issues in the Times, though patchy is usually decent, and better than other mainstream channels and papers.
Further leopards get the blame if they are spotted in cites and moreover if they attack humans then they are immediately ‘man eaters’. Not an explanation that why the poor creature has strayed.
Over the years the Asiatic Lion went ahead and got branded as the Gir Lion as a result of which the state of Gujarat declares them as their sole property and thwarted any possible relocation to a second home.
Issues are in abundance, and in the same scale they are ignored from fishing trawlers destroying our coasts, animal skins and body parts, medicinal plants to the illegal trade in butterflies which eventually come back to our living rooms as beautiful wall artifacts from the South-east Asian markets. Trade in wildlife in the third biggest after narcotics and firearms.
The plunder of our natural history goes on and on, the media just picks and chooses what will be a sensation a dead tiger skin or a dead otter skin.


Anonymous said...

bunch of retarded idiots most of these media jokers! NDTV takes the cake for retarded-journalism taken to an extreme level. But then you have retarded viewers who sign up for such stupid campaigns..last heard they have got 3 lacs signs..mad people concerned about tigers at a time when we are facing global warming, sixth mass extinction, shortage of water, massive agricultural crisis, increasing earthquakes and possibly end of the world by solar flares in 2012..

Anonymous said...

good going birdy.....

Anonymous said...

Have the loonies at NDTV ever figured out why our tigers are killed? I dont think they will be able to figure it out even by the end of this century.

If they are genuinely interested in saving the tigers then do this:

Tell the NDTV bosses to ask their bro-in-law to request his Chinese bosses to ban tiger parts in traditional Chinese medicine. There u have it - no demand means no killing of the tiger for its body parts!

Anil P said...

Accuracy could be enforced if each media outlet has a team of 'vetters' from respective fields.

And I'm not sure if media outlets should restrict their coverage to crisis situations. It would help to convert from 'environmental coverage' to 'nature coverage' as in writing about 'happy things' where they exist, publishing nature diaries etc.

Coverage when restricted to emerging crisis with exclusion of everything else will invariably ignore all the wonderful things about nature that could actually get readers to appreciate nature over a period of time.

Anonymous said...

Finally someone from DDM who knows their environment stuff. Good going.