In the scope of the CSOnnect programme, the Regional Environmental Centre for Central and Eastern Europe (REC), based in Szentendre, Hungary, hosted a three-day media training for journalists and news editors from Serbia who are involved with environmental issues.
As Serbia is currently working through a lengthy and complicated EU accession process, its citizens will rely on timely and accurate information to participate effectively. Relevant information refers not only to the process itself and related environmental issues, but also to the potential consequences of not tackling these issues. Those working in media should use the power of their resources to provide information that can motivate citizens to be active. REC Executive Director Mihail Dimovski said in his welcome address to event participants that the media is needed to highlight the successes of the EU enlargement process, and that journalists can raise the profile of key environmental issues through their work.
The first day of the workshop featured Matt McGrath, a BBC science and environmental journalist and editor, who spoke in depth about the media’s role in helping to solve problems. He told the 25 training participants that they are responsible for deciding which topics will be debated or not, and that they can play important roles in educating others, while at the same time serving as a vehicle for registering public dissatisfaction.
“Working on the topic of environment is a special type of challenge for journalists,” McGrath said. “One whole year of research can be condensed into a seven-minute feature, and to keep the public’s interest you’ll have to revisit some topics, despite any difficulties you might have had when you have filmed certain stories. But cooperation between journalists, forums for discussion on important environmental questions, and any other forms of networking have a huge potential for information exchange — and they provide support for the quality and authenticity of reporting.”
Drawing from more than 20 years of experience, McGrath reviewed the mechanisms and practical technics that both he and the BBC use to provide high-quality reporting in different circumstances, including all the latest technologies and applications used to make a topic more accessible, whether to newspaper readers, website viewers, radio listeners or a television audience.
“It’s also important to balance how we talk about certain topics,” McGrath continued, “and to introduce a positive approach, so that people will think positively and that their future activities will have a positive effect. How people receive the news is very much influenced by our approach to the news, and by how we convey the message, both visually and energetically. The way you record the material and regulate the format will make your audience keen to hear more analysis after the original broadcast, and to follow the next stories you make. We live in an age with more sources of information and data than ever before, so you only need to find the right mechanisms to make it all accessible.”
The second day of the training featured engaging speakers from the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland—each focusing on different topics but also addressing issues related to the accession processes in their respective countries.
Csaba Kiss, a lawyer with EMLA, a non-profit NGO working in environmental law and environmental management at national, European and international levels, provided a detailed history of Hungary’s EU accession process, and enumerated some of the benefits that EU membership has provided the country since 2004.
Pavel Cincera runs Ekolist, an online environmental news portal that attracts roughly 100,000 readers per month. Bringing several years of experience, Cincera shared techniques and strategies on how to generate news content with a small staff, and how stay afloat financially. He also provided some ethical ground rules for environmental journalists and editors.
Tomasz Ulanowski, from Gazeta Wyborcza, spoke about environmental stories in Poland that have become important since his country became an EU member state. One of many such challenges concerned the proposed construction of a road through a protected river valley.
“There was a demand from the EU to stop the construction, and we obtained the judicial proceedings for this case,” Ulanowski explained. “The outcome of this case was a decision to construct an alternative road, and this story has become a symbol of the environmental protection movement in Poland. There is, indeed, a thin line between journalism and activism that can get blurred. But we are in some ways activists when we explain to our readers how environmental problems are created.”
The principle subject of day three was investigative reporting, and the featured speakers were Aleksandar Djordjevic and Dragan Gmizic, from the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN); Dino Jahic, from the Centre for Investigative Journalism in Serbia (CINS); and Tamas Bodoki, from Hungarian not-for-profit online news portal Atlatszo.
All of the presentations were high-quality and very informative, and the participants contributed thought-provoking and dialogue-driving questions throughout the event.
“Spreading a culture of environmental awareness will bring positive changes in human behaviour, but this is a very complex process,” concluded Zorica Korac, a REC expert speaking on behalf of the CSOnnect programme team that organised the training. “Both traditional and social media are important parts of our everyday life, and they shape our awareness of the topics at the centre of public discourse. It is exactly for these reasons that it is necessary to move environment to the centre of public discussion, and to make it a trending topic on several levels — whether it’s climate change, ecological concerns, or the visibility of Serbia’s ongoing Chapter 27 negotiations.”