The majority of media attention in Indonesia focuses on iconic species like orangutans, the Sumatran tiger, and the Javan rhino. However, many more species are at risk including forest porcupines, striped rabbits and rainbow fish — and their threat of extinction often goes underreported.
The Society of Indonesian Science Journalists (SISJ) was awarded an EJN Biodiversity Media Initiative media grant in 2021. They designed their project ‘Reporting on Silent Extinction’ upon identifying a need to move towards more balanced biodiversity reporting.
"We've reported on myriad issues, we've gained million of clicks, our audience base (as a community of journalists) is large. But when was the last time we reported on biodiversity, aside from the iconic Sumatran elephant, rhino, tiger or orangutan? We're losing time due to climate change and other anthropogenic causes. The impact is very likely irreversible. If not now, when?” pointed out Dewi Safitri, Secretary General of SISJ.
SISJ were founded in 2004 by 13 science journalists who had a vision of creating an “informed and science conscious society through excellence in science journalism” by mainstreaming science through the Indonesian media. They are now an organization with 96 members and are part of the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ). SISJ hopes to contribute to public knowledge of science and to influence evidence-based policy measures.
SISJs project activities included webinars, reporting fellowships and hosting journalism competitions to encourage quality reporting.
Earlier this year, SISJ hosted a webinar called “An Introduction to Indonesia’s Non-Charismatic Species”, which highlighted the species’ importance for their ecosystem, the narrative or science writing, and re-introduction projects of endangered plants and animals in Indonesia. SISJ also hosted two biodiversity-related photography webinars called ‘Shot by Phone’ where mobile journalism was taught by introducing 99 journalists to the use of smartphones to photograph lesser-known species.
Survey results revealed that the number of journalists highly confident in their knowledge of biodiversity doubled after these webinars and their interest in biodiversity reporting also increased by 75%.
SISJ provided reporting fellowships to 10 journalists (of 85 who applied). SISJ looked to support journalists who were looking to investigate the existence of species that were unknown to many. The journalists received mentorship, editorial support and funding to enable them to report their stories. They produced a total of 16 stories about a range of endangered animal and plant species that included forest porcupines, striped rabbits, rainbow fish, the river cat of Sumatera, a mysterious orchid in the forests of Sulawesi, the, solitary trees of Nusakambangan Island near Java, and a much-serenaded flower in Aceh.
In June 2022, SISJ held a contest among the fellows and awarded prizes to four journalists who produced a three-part series on ecologically important fruit bats threatened by human consumption, a feature on the illegal trade in marbled whiprays, a threatened river fish a two-part feature on a rare orchid, and a podcast episode on overexploitation of rattan vines in a national park.
Here’s a list of the winners from across SISJs categories:
Here are the Biodiversity Photography through Smartphone winners:
Here are the Best Biodiversity Reporting winners:
- There's Still Hope for Black Bats in North Sulawesi – Isvara Savitri – Tribun Manado
- Threatened in Musi River, Circulating in Lokapasar – Abdus Somad – Jaring
- The Great Challenge of Protecting the "Wonua Sorume" Orchid Habitat – M Taslim Dalma – Zona Sultra
- Collaborative Movement to Prevent Manau Rattan in Jambi from Extinction – Elvidayanty Darkasih –Rotan Manau.
“We need more of [this kind of] reporting. We need these stories now. And this project is about that, an effort to instil that urgency. We do hope we helped develop some capacity along the way, but most of all this project is to encourage fellow journalists to report more on biodiversity,” said SISJ’s Safitri.
“Non-charismatic species have been and continue to be neglected in biodiversity coverage worldwide, so we are proud to support the work of SISJ to highlight some of these lesser-known endangered animals and plants in Indonesia. We hope that their fellowships and webinars have inspired some reporters to consider writing stories on amazing species like the marbled whipray or corpse flower in the future, and we hope we can support similar projects going forward and continue SISJ’s good work in this space,” said Charlie Debenham, Senior Programme Officer at EJN.
Banner image: Isvara Savitri reported on ongoing conservation efforts to protect black bats / Credit: Diah Irawati Dwi Arini.