Tag Archives: poaching

Fighting for the front page: The challenges of environmental reporting in Malawi

In Malawi, parliamentary proceedings and political scandals dominate the headlines and radio waves.  Whether it is a mere press conference or cabinet reshuffling, journalists jump at the chance to report on governmental affairs. The prevalence of political coverage, however, means that other issues are sidelined.

The country’s state of underdevelopment, coupled with intermittent electricity and water shortages, serve as a constant reminder that there is a long way to go in the creation of even the most basic infrastructure.

Undoubtedly, sustainable energy and water management are worthy topics of discussion. Furthermore, clear-cutting in Malawi’s northern region has left large tracks of land barren, and poaching has devastated animal populations in the country’s national parks and game reserves. Nevertheless, such pressing environmental issues remain largely ignored by the mainstream media.

In recent years, a multilateral effort to encourage journalists to cover environmental issues has been underway. Various organizations under the United Nations (UN) banner, including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), are behind this push driven by global objectives – namely the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

For the past two years, MIJ FM reporter Anthony Masamba has been a regular participant in environmental reporting workshops.

Masamba explained that at these workshops, journalists are trained to understand the linkages between climate change and a range of issues, from agriculture and health, to transport. Through these sessions “journalists have been imparted with skills that allow them to write good stories from an informed perspective, as most of these journalists have not been trained to report on environmental issues,” he said. While “most of them have knowledge in journalism – they know how to write,” Masamba explained that many journalists have yet to grasp the technical languages and jargon of environment and climate change.

For this reason, the Malawi Institute of Journalism (MIJ) offers an Environmental Reporting class for certificate and diploma-level students. The course aims to equip students with knowledge on major environmental issues facing the contemporary world, as well as stimulate interest in the topic. The curriculum encompasses environmental issues, ethics, policies and legislation, as well as the idea of sustainable development.

MIJ student Patrick Botha believes that workshops and coursework are a valuable means by which to encourage journalists and journalism students to work to ensure a sustainable environment. “[Journalists] have a role to play and it is their duty to inform the masses and expose issues. There is a need to engage these journalists to create an interest in them to report on such issues,” Botha said.

Undoubtedly, journalists play a crucial role in information dissemination, knowledge acquisition and overall awareness. While media houses are a useful outlet for the promotion of sustainable development and campaigning for social change, clear challenges remain.

“Here in Malawi, if a newspaper is to sell, it must have a political story on the front page,” Masamba explained. “No one will buy a paper with a headline that reads climate change impacts development – Malawians want to read about politics. If a paper has politics on the front page, it will sell like hot cakes,” he added.

At the same time, further challenges arise as a result of the hierarchical newsroom structure. Masamba outlined a typical scenario: “I can have an idea for a story. I write my letter seeking financial support but if my request is not approved, what do I do? I just sit because I cannot support myself to go that far to do just a story.”

Botha explained that for journalists concerned with nabbing a front-page byline, there is even less motivation to report on environmental issues. With such an article, “they will probably make the third, fourth, or twentieth-something page.” According to Botha, another deterrent “is the belief that the majority of people will not bother to read [an environmental story] unless they have nothing better to do.”

Despite the workshops and other efforts, Masamba attests that the impact has not been realized due to a lack of political will. “At the moment in Malawi we do not have a climate change policy. This is a policy that would provide guidelines through which climate change issues can best be addressed or integrated into various programs,” he explained.

Masamba believes that the Malawian government’s failure to implement such a policy is unacceptable. “How do they handle climate change issues without having a climate change policy? This is a policy that would provide guidelines, but they don’t have it,” he explained. “We as journalists have our own challenges, but the government, on their part, must show political will,” Masamba said.

As for the future of environmental reporting in Malawi, Masamba has high hopes. His optimism stems from the country’s new leadership, which has already outlined a way forward. For instance, in place of the Ministry of Energy, Natural Resources and Environment the Joyce Banda administration has established the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. “In coming up with this ministry, I think this government has shown political will towards addressing issues to do with climate change,” Masamba said.

Poaching in Tanzania’s game parks

Tanzania's elephant population fell by 24 per cent from 2006 to 2009, yet patrolling of game parks is lax and park official deny poaching is a problem

With cameras in tow and binoculars ready, I embrace the Tanzanian tourist trap I fell into and peer out the roof of our truck to admire two lions and four baby cubs relaxing in the midday sun, not far from their zebra leftovers.

As amusing as this rare sighting is, I’m aware of the darker side of animal parks. To kill and be killed may be the nature of wildlife, but poaching should not be a part of the game. Though Tanzanian park officials deny the problem still exists, recent newspaper coverage and an investigation by the international organization, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), suggest otherwise.

“So what can you tell me about the latest poaching of elephants in Tanzania?” I ask our safari guide as we circle down a windy road toward the crater floor.

Caught off guard by my question, he mumbles back with hesitation, “Oh, that’s not a problem. We don’t have poaching in our country anymore.”

Someone should tell my driver he’s been misinformed—in 2009 alone, about 11,678 kilograms of seized African ivory originated in Tanzania. On top of that, all of sub-Saharan Africa was targeted for mass seizures between January and November of the same year, totaling over 20,000 kilograms.

What’s more, a 2010 report released by EIA documents discussions between Tanzanian traders and ivory dealers about how they illegally smuggle ivory using bribes to quiet officials. According to the organization, Tanzania’s elephant population fell by 24 per cent between 2006 and 2009—more than 33,000 elephants in total.

After viewing the lax security at the park gates—a few rangers and the odd ranger car patrolling the grounds—it’s evident how poaching persists.

Sadly, when the sun sets on the Serengeti plains and camera-toting tourists disperse, some animals have more than nature’s predators to fear with poachers on the prowl.

Tanzania’s main trading partner in the smuggling of illegal ivory is a country that has had its own poaching problems in the past: China. About two years ago, China faced accusations when ivory from 11,000 elephants mysteriously disappeared into the country’s black markets.

Fears of illegal ivory trading became the focal point of discussion at this year’s International Elephant Conservation and Research Symposium in January, when Tanzania and Zambia presented a proposal to alter their elephant populations from Appendix I, which bans commercial trade, to Appendix II, which allows regulated trade subject to certain conditions.

Tanzania’s request was not granted, but there is still a long way to go regarding illegal trading. On Sept. 9, 2010, a shipment of 1,550 kg of ivory tusks was confiscated by port officials in Hong Kong. The ivory originated from Tanzania.

It would be a lie to say the safari wasn’t an amazing experience, but part of me still wonders, if poaching continues at this rate, how many elephants will I see roaming Tanzania’s supposedly protected game parks in five years?