Given Nepal’s high vulnerability to climate change, one might expect reporters like Mangal Man Shakya, a veteran investigative journalist and chairman of Nepal’s Wildlife Watch Group, to find great demand for his environmental stories. Unfortunately, that isn’t the always the case.
“It has been a long time since I saw an investigative environmental report in the Nepali media,” Shakya said as he spoke at a recent “Earth Matters Workshop” for journalists in Kathmandu. Although many Nepali leaders recognize the need to take action on environmental issues, the preeminence of political and economic stories often means reporting on climate change and conservation gets buried on page 6. The environmental stories that do get published are typically limited in scope, rather than in-depth and linked to broader political, economic, or health issues.
Recognizing the media’s critical role in raising public awareness and influencing public policy, USAID, in partnership with WWF Nepal, organized a media Earth Day workshop called “Earth Matters,” designed to help journalists understand how environmental issues can be linked to broader socio-political issues in Nepal and produce content with more in-depth analysis. The workshop, organized through the USAID-funded Hariyo Ban (Green Forests) Program, invited Nepali journalists to engage with some of the nation’s top conservation experts, high-ranking policy makers, veteran media professionals, and an award-winning journalist from the United States, in sessions that often took on a press conference format.
The 12 participants, selected from a large pool of applicants, shared the common challenges they face not only in accessing resources to pursue environmental reporting, but also in getting buy-in from newsrooms that do not care for, or do not understand, the country’s environmental issues. Such challenges make it even more important for journalists to link environmental stories to political and economic issues, which tend to receive greater coverage.
Speaking at the workshop, former Member of Parliament’s Natural Resources and Means Committee Gagan Thapa reiterated the influence that good reporting can have on policy: “Often, it was the media that brought many issues to our attention,” he said, discussing the relationship between reporters and the Parliament and Constituent Assembly. He added that, with Nepal’s current lack of a Parliament, it is all the more important for environmental reporters to be bold and vigilant.
“Environment issues are at the heart of Nepal’s socio-economic present and future problems and solutions, and it is high time Nepali politics recognizes this,” Kashish Das Shrestha, well-known environmental writer and moderator of the workshop, said. “An informed and responsible media is critical in helping to shape the political discourse accordingly.”
By the end of the workshop, one of the 12 participants had produced a radio show on the devastating effects of mining and deforestation in Nepal’s mid hills for Image FM 97.9, one of Nepal’s largest stations, and also published an article on the story. Another participant had produced a radio report for the Community Information Network, which includes more than 100 community radio stations throughout Nepal. These reports are just few of the bright sparks lit by the workshop.
In the second phase of the workshop, participants will head to the field to conduct research in the areas where Hariyo Ban operates. This interaction with those most affected by environmental issues is expected to inform and expand environmental media coverage. The workshop culminates on World Environment Day, June 5, when all participants—Hariyo Ban Champions—will share the work they have produced based on the workshop and field research.
USAID’s Hariyo Ban program has, since 2011, helped Nepalis prepare for and adapt to climate stresses. Hariyo Ban is a cornerstone of President Obama’s Global Climate Change Initiative in Nepal and is implemented by a consortium led by World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Other consortium members include: CARE, the Federation of Community Forestry Users in Nepal, and the National Trust for Nature Conservation.