FLEGT Media: A reporting guide on illegal logging
What’s the story?
Forests provide important goods and services to all of humanity, but they’re under threat – especially the world’s last great tropical forests. One of the threats – illegal logging – has major economic, social and environmental consequences.
Better law enforcement is only one part of the solution. Governance – the ownership and management of forests – must also improve. As should the law itself, through reforms that all stakeholders can endorse. Another piece of the puzzle is trade, the trade that links consumers in timber-consuming countries with threats to forests in timber-producing countries.
Forests. Laws. Enforcement. Governance. Trade. These are the key areas of concern in the EU’s initiative to eliminate illegal timber from the EU market: The EU FLEGT Action Plan. The plan aims to address illegal logging by strengthening sustainable and legal forest management, improving governance and promoting trade in legally produced timber.
FLEGT includes measures in the EU and in timber-exporting countries in Africa, Asia and South and Central America. It involves an array of actors, institutions and businesses: criminal justice systems and customs agencies; indigenous rights activists and forest officers; logging companies, furniture factories and home décor showrooms.
The EU adopted the EU FLEGT Action Plan in 2003. This resource for journalists shows what happened next. There have been plenty of improvements, but progress towards the Action Plan’s goal has been uneven and much of the FLEGT story is still waiting to be told. Media coverage of FLEGT has been minimal, yet there are no shortages of angles to this story or news to report.
Whether they want to be or not, journalists are part of the story. Indeed the principal intermediaries among these diverse stakeholders are the media. When a community is harmed by illegal logging, it’s the media that has both the power and the responsibility to tell a furniture shopper if they had a part in the harm. Whether a proposed government policy supports or confounds sustainable forest management, telling the story is the business of a good business reporter.
Illegal logging affects us all, one way or another. Explaining, illuminating and educating the public about that is the job of good, conscientious journalists, no matter what their beat is. But why should a business journalist, or someone covering capital markets or telecommunications, need to know about forests for their work? As ecology tells us, everything is connected. The section ‘Who is this for?’ explains why this is a subject for all journalists.
About this resource
The resource aims to help journalists report on efforts to address illegal logging under the EU FLEGT Action Plan. It provides background information, reporting tips and links to more resources. The content is organised in the following sections:
- The big picture. This section provides the context for any journalist’s work on FLEGT. It explains why forests matter and why illegal logging persists, then introduces the economic, social and environmental consequences of illegal logging.
- FLEGT in brief. This section answers every journalist’s six essential questions – Why? When? Where? Who? How? and What?
- FLEGT: Letter by Letter. This section explores each of the letters in the FLEGT acronym. It provides background information, examples, story ideas and reporting tips about forests, law, enforcement, governance and trade.
- Seven pillars of FLEGT. This section explains what each of the seven elements of the EU FLEGT Action Plan aims to achieve. It describes progress to date and provides case studies and reporting tips.
- Reporting on FLEGT. This section provides additional reporting tips and story ideas.
- Beyond FLEGT. This section explains how FLEGT fits into the global picture. It describes similar initiatives in other markets and how FLEGT relates to forest certification and REDD+, the international scheme to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the forest sector.
Who is this for?
Some of you are veteran environmental journalists. You’re looking for new angles, better sources or the latest information. Some of you are business reporters with no time for bees and butterflies, but your editor wants to know “what the hell is this FLEGT thing?” and why companies are talking about it. Some of you write about human rights, or pharmaceuticals, or corruption or food. This resource is for all of you.
It is for… journalists who are, understandably, sceptical
The forces arrayed against the world’s remaining natural forests are many and great, so what can possibly be done? Is FLEGT like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic? Or is it part of the transformation necessary for early 21st-century humans to help restore the biosphere? Can trade in forest products only be destructive and exploitative? Or can a Belgian consumer’s euros find their way to forest dependent communities and sustainable businesses in Sabah? Can trade prevail if it is fair and ecologically sound?
What about the young guy with the chainsaw… or the truck driver, the forest official, the lumber yard manager, the mill operator, the trading house representative, the factory owner, the banker, the customs officer, the commerce minister, the Interpol data processor, the retail chain CEO, and your uncle’s new deck – can their business save the world’s remaining forests rather than destroy them in our lifetime? Helping to answer that question is the work of journalists, whether they normally cover the environment or not.
It is for… journalists who don’t cover the environment because they’re busy with “harder” or “more important” subjects like politics, security or investment
Terrorism. A new Cold War. China’s economic slowdown. Who’s got time to pay attention to frogs and forest people? Well, most of us are fortunately not in direct harm’s way, but most of us do have something to do with wood. Look around you. Even if you don’t buy your own wooden furniture or flooring, if you patronise places that do, you’re involved. If you work at places that do, or pay taxes that finance government offices that do, then you’re involved. If you have a pension policy or money in a bank, then you’re involved.
If you are a journalist in the EU, try thinking about your own link in the economic chain, follow your purchases back to the forest in Indonesia or the Congo or Honduras and you’ll see there’s an incredible story there. Is it the story of forest crimes that could destroy some of the last great places on earth? Or, is it the story of the time when we turned things around, found a way to ensure that not some, but all timber products on the EU market are legally sourced? Journalists have a role to play in that grand story. And so does FLEGT.
It is for… journalists who want to help communicate the story of our times
Forest ecologists aren’t the only ones tearing their hair out about environmental doom. Read the story about climate change in Rolling Stone in August 2015. The tales of climate scientists and oceanographers are getting scarier and scarier, because they themselves are scared. Some argue that we have entered a completely new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. The Age of Man. A time when a single species is causing a wave of extinction and even changing the climate of the planet. We know about it, in many cases we are working to stop it, and yet it is still going on. This is not a story. It’s not a beat. It’s not an angle. This is a lifetime of reporting. The fate of the last great forests, and the people who depend on them, will be decided in the coming decades. Journalists like you will be key players in that momentous decision.
Source: Flore de Preneuf, PROFOR