Journalists Highlight Risks to People along the Mekong River

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Earth Journalism Network, Chiang Mai, Thailand

“We need you to tell our story,” Headman Pan Changairo says to a group of journalists. “We don’t want to lose our land and our way of life.” Changairo is concerned about the effects a proposed large-scale dam would have on his village in Northern Thailand, Mae Khannin Tai.

The journalists he’s speaking to are from all six countries in the Mekong region, visiting his village through a workshop conducted by the Mekong Partnership for the Environment (MPE). Internews’ Earth Journalism Network is an MPE partner. During the four-day training in September, the journalists learned how to turn Environmental Impact Assessment processes and data into engaging stories about the environmental and social impacts of development projects.

Hoang Thu Huong, an editor with VietNamNet, felt the Thai village experience would help her audience reflect on their own struggles in Vietnam. The issues, she said, such as “conflict, corruption, destroying the environment etc. are exactly similar with what has happened in Vietnam. My readers will see it as ‘another Vietnam’ then compare situations and solutions between the two countries.”

Huong went on to publish a story titled “Thailand and the Conflict Known as Hydropower,” which related the project to the struggles many Mekong countries and communities face as dam projects proliferate across the region.

A total of 20 journalists from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and China participated in the workshop which included additional reporting trips to the Royal Thai Irrigation Department, a local civil society organization called Living Rivers Siam, and Ob Khan National Park, which is also at risk of flooding from the dam project.

Working Together

The workshop was an opportunity for the journalists to connect with and support each other in a region where the effects of development often cross national boundaries. They agreed to launch a network called Mekong Matters, facilitated and supported by MPE, to share resources and collaborate on future reporting projects.

“I think working with journalists in other (Mekong) countries is extremely important,” says network member Thaweeporn Kumetha, a reporter with Thailand’s Prachatai news service. “The impact of mega development projects are normally trans-boundary. Information regarding the projects may be in local languages and may be difficult to be obtained by outsiders. The network of journalists can help us get these documents and sources.”

“I believe it’s a great opportunity for me and other journalists in the region to assist each other on our reporting,” says Mony Say, a video reporter with Cambodia’s Voice of America Khmer Service who helped establish the network and is planning a story about Laos’ Don Sahong dam and its impacts on downstream countries. “I am going to maintain this network of journalists and make use of it for my upcoming reporting trip to Laos by contacting my new Laotian friend and asking her for help arranging the trip.”

Hoang Thu Huong was impressed with the journalists he met at the workshop. “They share my experience, knowledge and common concerns. Since we also share the Mekong River, the network will be very helpful to protect the river, and our living habitat.”

The MPE project supports constructive engagement among civil society, governments and business to promote responsible development in the Mekong region. The project is led by a consortium of partners, including Pact and Internews, and is supported by the United States Agency for International Development.