Dr. S. Nagarathinam, CEC member, organized a November workshop on Wildlife, Nature Conservation and Media Reporting at Madurai Kamraj University.
By Dr. S. Nagarathinam
The Department of Communication at Madurai Kamraj University and the Commission on Education and Communication (CEC) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature jointly organised a one day workshop on Wildlife, Nature Conservation and Media Reporting on 16 November 2011.
After the lighting of the ceremonial lamp and the welcome speech by Dr. S. Nagarathinam, Associate Professor, Department of Communication, the inagural speech was given by Dr. M. Rajiakodi, the Registrar of MKU, who spoke eruditely on the role of the mass media.
He said the prime responsibility of the media is not only to protect culture but also our forests and wild life. Madurai Kamaraj University is one of 9 universities which have been conferred the honor and stature of a ‘University with the potential for excellence’. By this the University Grants Commission (UGC) asks Universities to showcase what their contribution to society is besides just academics. So apart from academics we should help preserve forests and wildlife.
He went on to explain that if the students wanted to compete at a global level, they had to enhance their communication skills in English and increase their computer literacy. In the words of the famous Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar, he said, learning is a lifelong process, onwards and until our death. After which Dr Rajiakodi formally released the lab journal Vaigai Times and the video journal Eye-Cast of the Media department. Love. Not Loss, 3 minutes and 27 seconds length video of CEC IUCN was screened.
In his key note address, Dr V Ganesan I.F.S., District Forest Officer, Theni District in Tamilnadu, spoke with humor about his 28 years of ‘hands on’ experience as the ‘biggest landlord in the area’!
He said he began in 1983 as the Assistant Conservator of Forests, Madurai after a Masters in Horticulture, but his real learning came from working in the jungles. He explained that handling the jungles from the days of the British Raj was very different. Then it was exploitation where the officers in charge had to see that there was enough timber sent to England for their ship building industry and other building needs.
It was only in 1855 that ‘the father of scientific forestry’- Dr Hugh Francis Cleghorn began in Tamil Nadu a department to manage the forests. Only then did this department and related wildlife issues of TN was born. Later in 1882, a German named Dietrich Brandis reorganized the forestry department into a smoother system.” These were men who worked as foresters with the heart and not by training,” the forestry conservation officer said.
The science of forestry said Ganesan, cannot be taught within the four walls of a class room. There is the Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy in New Delhi and The Forest College and Research Institute at Saidapet, Chennai, begun in 1916. But finally a forester is nothing more than a law enforcement officer he added wryly.
“When I first joined the department my grandfather told me that a forester just rests. But I cannot rest day or night, weekend or week day, the forest calls to me at any time, as we are the only department that is bothered about the future of humanity,” he said.
He went on to reiterate that it is the media that needs to report with sensitivity. “After all we are one department that does not manage land as is imagined, but we manage a whole life form.” We humans, he said are selfish and growing at the cost of other species. Our wants are unlimited, but our forests need to be preserved for those who depend on them for their livelihood.
During Human vs. Wildlife conflict the media need to report with some restraint. “Many issues are projected like it’s the wild life’s fault. The press has to give the right message and not distort information as otherwise we the foresters are at the receiving end from both the scientist and the government,” said Ganesan, putting his point across succinctly to the assembled press and students.
Archita Bhatta, a policy analyst and science journalist spoke about the effect of climate change on nature conservation and the need for media persons to gear themselves up for covering both. Presenting case studies she showed how climate change was affecting biodiversity through its effect on the food chain, through destruction of habitats like the polar ice caps and through changes in moisture levels. While many countries are preparing themselves for the future through studies conducted on effect of climate change on biodiversity, she pointed out that studies in India in this field were still inadequate. She added that given the fast pace in which changes are taking place in both these arenas, climate change affecting nature conservation and vice versa, media persons need to play a proactive role in calling for more studies and influencing policy related to both these issues, through their writings.
Marianne de Nazareth, freelance environment journalist and adjunct faculty at St Joseph’s College, Dept. of Communication, Bangalore, through her presentation on Man-Elephant conflict, elucidated how the lack of proper background work of a journalist results in ‘sensationalizing’ the coverage of wildlife issues, which could adversely affect people’s attitude towards wild life and create barriers for conservation. Explaining the importance of living and eating space for an animal like the elephant, she pointed out that destruction of elephant habitats for expanding living area for human beings leads elephants to stray into areas which humans have urbanized. She insisted that since the media is one of the arenas through which conservation issues come to the attention of policy makers, journalists should educate themselves to bring the right perspective to these issues.
In his session, Dr. S. Nagarathinam elaborated on the declining and threatened species of India in general and the Tamil Nadu in particular, highlighting the necessity of media coverage of these species. He mentioned that while the Grizzled Giant Squirrel, a native of the Western Ghats was Vulnerable, the number of the Tamil Nadu state bird Emerald Dove was fast declining as well. He regretted that even though many of these animals, like the four horned deer offer a visual spectacle to human beings, the media is not interested in covering their rapid decline in population, as it is not ‘breaking news’.
As a former media editor he advised the journalists and students to regularly refer the redlist of the IUCN containing the list of threatened species to keep themselves abreast and also to write about the endangered and threatened species relevant to their area, so that adequate steps are taken towards their conservation.
Many of the journalists and students present at the workshop expressed their concern about the lack of implementation of conservation rules and regulations and the lack of action in curbing climate change by the government.
The workshop which brought together media persons and students across disciplines generated a fresh interest in coverage of science and environmental issues and provided fresh story angles to interested students.