Earlier this year, 100 journalists gathered in the West Java city of Depok to attend the National Conference of Environment Journalists titled” Climate Crisis Emergency: Strengthen Environmental Journalism Amid the Crisis.”
Other participants include representatives from state institutions, civil society organizations, and environmental activists, who attended to follow discussions on various topics such as the green economy, energy transition, disaster mitigation and biodiversity conservation.
“It is true that the journey of our struggle remains long, and we need to expand our environment-related knowledge,” said Joni Aswira, Chairman of The Society of Indonesian Environmental Journalists (SIEJ) which organized the conference.
SIEJ, which was founded by 45 environmental journalists in 2004, serves both as an educational forum and a network to promote critical and honest coverage of environmental issues in Indonesia. Now with around 200 members spread across 25 provinces, SIEJ organizes training workshops, fellowships and mentoring to boost the capacity of journalists and foster the meaningful exchange of information and ideas.
EJN supports SIEJ through special project funding from its Asia-Pacific project.
The conference offered journalists across Indonesia a space to reflect on their journalistic works, broaden their knowledge, and improve their environmental reporting, noted Ekuatorial, an Indonesian environmental news website founded by SIEJ in 2014.
Aswira, who was recently elected to chair SIEJ for the period of 2022-2025, said that strengthening environmental journalism is paramount as the world, including Indonesia, experiences a rise in extreme whether events due to climate change, as well as pollution, biodiversity loss and other environmental issues.
Zulkifli Mangkau, a freelance journalist from Gorontalo, said that strengthening environmental journalism can be done by boosting the participation and collaboration of journalists in reporting on the environment. Pushing environmental topics to the forefront in newsrooms across the country is also crucial, he added.
Wulan Yanurwati, a journalist from Radar Jogja said that besides documenting information and events on the field, journalists should also be able to build optimism on environmental sustainability through their stories.
“We need to pay more attention to the environment, work within our respective capabilities. Even though the effect would be slow, we need to take these small steps,” she said.
To enrich their environmental perspective, journalists must broaden their knowledge and networks. In addition, journalists must have a strong desire to explore information, data and opinions in depth, added Bagja Hidayat, Executive Editor of Tempo Magazine.
“When someone says it is raining outside and another says it is not, what you need to do is open up the window and see for yourself,” said Hidayat.
Digestible environmental reports
“Journalists play a role in reporting and sharing about what is happening, in a language that can be easily understood by the general public. This can raise people’s awareness on the climate crisis and ways to mitigate it,” said Andi Muttaqien, Deputy Director of Satya Bumi, an organization focused on advocating forest and nature protection.
Journalists are also expected to help the public to comprehensively understand the environmental context. Zenzi Suhadi, Executive Director of The Indonesian Forum for Environment (WALHI), said that environmental problems are universal, cross-cutting, and have often unanticipated impacts on culture and livelihoods.
He took the example of bamboo: If it became extinct, the dictionary would not only lose the word bamboo but also those denoting its by-products such as baskets, fish traps, and huts made with or using bamboo.
“If two million living species become extinct, where would our language go?” Suhadi asked.
Agus Justianto, Director General for Sustainable Forest Management at the Ministry of the Environment and Forestry Affairs (KLHK) says that the role of journalists is becoming increasingly vital amid the current deluge of information.
Justianti believes the data gathering, field observation, and verification activities that are part of reporting can help the public get access to accurate information.
“Environmental journalism is one of the best ways to raise awareness about the environment, especially climate change,” Justianto said.
He said that journalists play a key role in spreading climate commitments and the government's environmental policies to the public and promoting synergies between environmental policy, environmental health, sustainable development and climate change.
Prasinta Dewi, Deputy for prevention of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) reiterated journalists’ role in reminding the public about the disaster risks in their respective regions.
Flood risk, for instance, should be relayed to the public, prompting communities living in flood prone areas to prepare themselves or be evacuated.
“Media is part of the Penta helix or the forum for reducing the risks of disaster, one of our partners in disaster management,” Dewi said.
“The timing of this conference is very strategic, as SIEJ took points discussed during this conference to its annual members meeting which was held right after,” said Florence Armein, EJN’s senior Indonesia coordinator. “The event reflects SIEJ’s commitment to improve its outreach and engagement with regional nodes. Furthermore, EJN had the opportunity to meet and greet with its coordinators for the first time!”
To learn more about SIEJ, visit their website.
Banner image: Participants of the SIEJ-organized conference held at Wisma Hijau, West Java, Indonesia from 19-20 January 2023 pose for a group photo / Credit: SIEJ.