Monday, June 06, 2011

How green is my paper?

The Times of India, which never fails to surprise, was in fact the best in using the day, and the day before, to bring across some serious stories on the environment.  KALPANA SHARMA regrets the fact that the overall trend is to turn environmental reporting into entertainment. Pix: Kaif at the NDTV Greenathon
Posted Monday, Jun 06 00:45:07, 2011

Kalpana Sharma
The Indian media has embraced certain days and made them so routine that they seem to have lost all meaning. International Women’s Day on March 8 for instance has become the day to target women for all kinds of consumer products. The occasional article might remind us that the struggle for women’s equality or for justice has a long way to go. But overall it is a marketing bonanza.
June 5, World Environment Day, is not far behind in this except that the target audience is everyone, not just women. So companies vie with each other on June 5 to announce their ‘green’ credentials and the media laps this up as it means more ads and more revenue. How ‘green’ these companies really are, is rarely investigated.
This year, some newspapers – Hindustan Times in Mumbai – announced their ‘green-ness’ by turning virtually all their headlines and strap lines green. That is surely a novel way of demonstrating your commitment to protecting the environment! As far as content of the so-called environmental stories goes, they were entirely predictable. At a time when complex issues are reduced to personal pledges, environmental concerns are also simplified into suggestions of how people should grow their own vegetables, use showers that waste less water etc. Commendable as all this is, it does not touch the seriousness of the environmental problems the country faces.
The Times of India, which never fails to surprise, was in fact the best in using the day, and the day before, to bring across some serious stories on the environment. On June 4, in the lead up to World Environment Day, TOI’s Mumbai edition carried the kind of environmental story that is fairly rare these days. One, taking off from the recent alarm raised about a toxic laden ship heading for Alang’s ship-breaking yard in Gujarat, was a report on the local ship-breaking yard. Darukhana, located along the city’s eastern coast, has more than 6,000 workers dismantling ships. Their exposure to health hazards has been termed ‘critical’ by a United Nations special officer who, according to this reporter, visited the site in 2010. The story was comprehensive, with quotes from workers involved, and with a box item about the kind of hazards that they encounter while breaking up ships. For someone who did not know that shipbreaking is an environmental hazard, here was an article that illustrated it simply and well.
Another excellent environmental story, on the same day, was about the environmental damage being caused to the ecosystems along the Konkan coast by indiscriminate sand mining. No Mumbai paper has recently written about such environmental hazards to the Konkan coast even though the area has featured repeatedly because of the agitation against the Jaitapur nuclear power plant. An alert and environmentally conscious reporter covering the latter would have heard about other concerns that the people living in these coastal areas have about their environment.
The point I want to make is that environmental reporting can so easily be reduced to predictable ‘feel-good’ stories, or DIY (Do It Yourself) manuals, rather than investigative stories that expose the callous disregard for the environment by government, industry and often by ordinary people. 
Environmental reporting has now been mainstreamed and is no more restricted to features pages as it was in the 1980s when the word ‘environment’ was automatically equated with conservation. Today, environmental stories are political, and not just because our current Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, manages to enmesh himself in political controversies with his pronouncements and retractions.
It is surprising, therefore, that no newspaper or television channel has thought it worthwhile to follow up the Jaitapur agitation and the Fukushima disaster with its own investigation into the areas around Indian nuclear facilities (access to these, of course, is heavily restricted). In the past, the doctor couple, Sudheendra and Sanghamitra Gadekar has documented the impact of radiation on communities living near the Rawatbhatta nuclear facility in Rajasthan. What is happening there today? Sriprakash from Jharkhand made a powerful film on the uranium mines of Jadugoda and the health impact on local people. What has happened there? Tarapur in Maharashtra, which houses one of the oldest nuclear plants, has been in the news every now and then because of complaints by fisherfolk about the impact of the release of hot water on their fish catch. Have things changed for them? There are dozens such stories on the nuclear issue alone that merit investigation.
The Times of India invited Rajendra Singh, India’s ‘water man’ so to speak, to be Guest Editor of their issue of June 5. But what Singh did to revive a river in Alwar district needs replication in hundreds of places around the country. Water – both its availability and the quality of water in our water bodies – is a perennial environmental story. Yet rarely do we come across reports exposing what is happening to our rivers and lakes, particularly those located away from media centres and therefore automatically from media attention.
Environmental reporting comes in spurts. When global warming is the subject of an international conference, we see a rise in the number of articles on the subject. Most often, these are reports of the international negotiations on global warming without enough value addition to explain what this will mean for India. Sometimes such occasions do produce articles on regions that are already experiencing the impact of global warming, such as the Himalayas. But once the international spotlight shifts, so does the attention of our media.
It is possible that smaller papers and magazines, including those in Indian languages, are doing some good investigations that are not picked up by the more prominent and mainstream media. Yet, what becomes evident is that the overall trend is to turn environmental concerns into entertainment.
I must have missed something but NDTV’s Greenathon is one such effort that slightly mystifies me. Are we expected to believe that the presence of Katrina Kaif dancing to “Sheela ki Jawani” and Cyrus Broacha and Farah Khan exchanging inanities with anchor Vikram Chandra, to raise funds for environmental innovation, will wake those watching and listening to the seriousness of the environmental crisis this country faces? 
 (To read the original, click on the link above)

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