Understanding environmental issues for better reportage A media briefing for local journalists

Leh, Ladakh, April 7-9, 2013

Furthering our initiative to work with pan cities journalists, we were approached by Leh based Ladakh Arts and Media Organisation(LAMO) to hold a workshop for the local journalists in Ladakh. They however wanted us to extend our format to skill building in reporting for hand picked villagers who were being trained as water reporters. We saw this as an opportunity to not only extend our network, but also increase our research base into one of the remotest and under reported part of the country. We envisage to have a cadre of researchers and reporters bringing us stories from the ground, and feeding into the programmes such as climate change and renewable energy

The water reporters require an orientation towards issues such as climate change, which has become a part of their lives, but more importantly how to write about their indicators and signs so that there is some information engaging the public imagination. The water reporters came from remote villages in Ladakh, around Leh, and were barely educated. They were essentially farmers, who were to be trained as citizens reporters. Keeping the objective in mind, we decided it is not a one time workshop, and guidance was required through out the year, before they can sustain their reporting skills independently.

As we were dealing with not reporters, not journalist students, but motivated grassroots workers to be converted as reporters, our workshop demanded a thorough planning and reworking of the workshop format. 

We started on day 1 with a small field trip, with the water reporters, to gauge their understanding

of water management, scarcity and changes taking place in the availability. They had come from Domkar (120 kms from Leh), Changthang and Leh block.

The water management system in Leh is completely different, as Leh is a desert. The stream water which is getting extremely polluted is now only used for irrigation. It is however rationed to every village, and only those with farms are allowed to draw from the stream. Drinking water is provided through taps from the Indus, by the lift canal. Previously, before the taps, the stream was used for drinking purposes as it was kept clean by this same community.

Issues in the other districts are diametrically opposite. Villages in Changthang and Domkar do not have water shortages, as fresh water is available from the glaciers. However glacial lake outburst is something that the villagers are plagued with. They noted the increase in the number of lakes at the base of the glaciers high in the mountains, and rising incidences of GLOF.

The water reporters knew the issues well, but the task was to convert these verbal anecdotes into published media reports. After the trip, we had a small discussion to tell them what we had in mind. To gauge their understanding further, and to analyse if they can communicate their ideas and experiences in plain words, we handed them three basic questions in english and hindi.

  1.  The 2 environmental issues which according to them are the most critical?

  2. Is it a local news or a global news? Why?

  3. Are you ready to write about them? If not why?

We asked them to answer these questions after the day 1 of the workshop, where we will discuss the issues of climate change in context to water management, glaciers and wildlife and urbanisation in context to energy, transport, waste, buildings. An aspect we requested the water reporters to look out for, was the linkages between the indicators and impacts that they are witness to, to the rest of the state, country etc. To make sure they understood, we had Tashi, one of the organisers explain in the local language. The reporters did seem hesitant in writing as they were not comfortable with writing, but were more than keen to report using the mobile phone as a medium

The workshop was attended by 8 water reporters and 12 journalists from AIR, Reach Ladakh, Kashmir Times, Information bulletin and  Ladags Sargyur 

Apart from the sessions mentioned above, we spent some time with the producer from AIR Kargil, editor of Ladags Sargyur and editor of Reach Ladakh to understand their impression

of environment and reporting on environmental issues. Some interesting issues came up, which we could give them some help with. One of the major hindrance they thought was - being intimidated by their neighbours, in case of a 'critical' news piece. Tourism which is 50% of their GDP can lead to massive issues, if proper checks are not put in place. However they are hesitant to bring it up and did not know how to write about it again and again.

The reporters had very strong subjective view points, which they did not seem relax.

Another issue was the purview of subjects under which they saw environment. The discussion made them realise that each and every story they did

had an environmental angle to it. (That seemed to please them into an Eureka moment)

Day 1 ended with a brief introduction to the Day 2 activities. Though it was mainly designed for the water reporters, the Leh based reporters were also present. We had made special 'parcha' for them; a flowchart of how one should write a story as a beginner. It was a sort of short guide to report writing. As it was in English, we have seeked Tashi's help in translating it in the local language.

Day 2 was completely interactive. The questions, answered by the water reporters were quite impressive, as they had hit the nail on its head with their concerns. To name a few, they named road construction and vehicular congestion as an issue. The day was divided in identifying the issues, writing and editing and outreach methods. 

The first two sessions were completely interactive, with Richard asking them to identify various angles of a certain issue. The walk through the parchas lead to some very interesting conclusions by the group.

Day 2 was very well appreciated by the group - by LAMO, by the water reporters and by the journalists and the CSE team. As we understand this is not

a one time affair, and we do not want it to be a one time affair, we have already requested Tashi to discuss the next steps for information and data collection where Richard has agreed to hand hold them in generating grassroots stories for DTE web.