When Nature is news
The recent seminar and workshop in the city on environment journalism were an eye-opener to budding journalists, wishing to focus on such issues.
A TWO-DAY seminar and workshop for journalists (particularly environmental journalists and aspirants), organised by the Chennai-based CPR Environment Education Centre (CPREEC), the Washington-based International Centre for Journalists and the Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media, began as steadily and remarkably as it ended. But the amount of information exchanged during the 13 hours of brain storming spread over two days left one working the grey cells overtime on issues, each of which required more probing questions than the traditional five W's (who? what? where? when? why?) which are universally believed to be the maxims of journalism.
Nandita Krishna, director, CPREEC, stated unequivocally that ``India has traditionally worshipped Nature, and safeguarded it by endowing sanctity on mountains, rivers, water bodies, groves, trees and animals'' which in a way set the tone of the seminar and workshop. Each one of us, particularly those who were born either long before Independence or not long after, reminisces merrily about the happy times when one could wade in the pond or river without worrying if skin rashes will erupt soon. Even now people stand waist-deep in rivers, scooping up water in their palms and pouring them on their head after a silent prayer. That many of them rush home for a hot water bath later wasn't needed those days.
Sheela Rani Chunkath, chairperson, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, in her keynote address, spoke on the pollution by tanneries of Tamil Nadu. ``We hear of chromium in effluents from tanneries, but the most significant source of pollution is common salt.'' The raw hide reaching the tanneries is loaded with salt that is used as a preservative. But during the first stage of the tanning process, this salt has to be leached. The need to instal effluent treatment plants (ETPs) either individually or as a common unit that can handle the effluent load of a group of tanning units is obvious, and as some speakers insisted, many units, but not all, in Tamil Nadu had ETPs.
The dingdong battle of wits between the proponents and opponents of tanneries showed how perceptions differed depending on which bank of the river one stood. From the impact of tannery effluents on the quality of life and water to the ways in which the effluents are treated to remove the harmful components, it was education through a war of attrition all the way. It was interesting to note that 60 per cent of tanneries in India are located in Tamil Nadu, more specifically along the Palar river. Why is it that tanneries are located in developing countries but not in developed countries, other than the ones in Italy? As Rajamani of the Central Leather Research Institute, Chennai put it, ``There is a transfer of pollution activity.'' The Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S., for instance, has sweeping powers and clamps down on industrial units violating the prescribed environmental norms. Given that tanning is an environment-damaging activity, there is no possibility of tanneries cropping up in the U.S. It therefore makes economic sense to seek sources in nations where environmental pollution control boards are either non-existent or do not have adequate powers to take punitive action against renegades or where the legal system can be used to delay a punitive action from taking effect.
The afternoon session of the first day focussed on the trends in environment journalism. Adam Glenn, Ford Environmental Journalism fellow, as a resource person had enough skills to infuse adrenalin in budding journalists. His workshop covering a wide range of techniques - from explaining video clips on interview techniques to the dicey issue of journalistic ethics to organising interview exercises - offered a lot of food for thought. The most important outcome of sessions was the realisation that almost every topic under the sun will have significant environment content, though admittedly ``environment topics are considered soft topics by editors all over the world'' Adam Glenn commented, but said, ``It shouldn't be difficult to argue and fight with the editors for space for an environmental story.''
The best way Adam Glenn could have served as a human resource manager for journalists was if he were to discuss issues of importance to the whole planet and how environmental issues were being handled in other countries. One hopes this will happen in workshops likely in future.
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