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Voices from the grassroots: new media and environmental journalism in Asia

All over Asia, environmental problems, including climate change, are increasingly being debated in public. Blogs and online social networking sites are playing an increasingly important role in raising awareness.

For many Chinese, the internet is an important source of information about environmental issues

For many Chinese, the internet is an important source of information about environmental issues

Syeda Gulshan Ferdous Jana is the co-founder of Bangladesh's leading platform for bloggers. "Somewhere in...", as it is called, hosts more than 50,000 Bangla-language blogs. Jana says that although dramatic consequences from climate change are predicted for her country, most Bangladeshis didn't care much about the issue until very recently.

"In Bangladesh, the subject seems too far away from a population largely thinking and planning for the next few months! But after Copenhagen, in Bangla blog sites, people from Bangladesh started to write about it and there are some good discussions."

Syeda Gulshan Ferdous Jana

Syeda Gulshan Ferdous Jana from Dhaka

Jana believes that bloggers find it easier than conventional media to spread knowledge about complex issues such as climate change, given that the internet is interactive and allows questions to be posed and a dialogue to come about.

Using the internet as a source for news stories

But in many cases, new media and traditional journalism are still closely interlinked. In a more restricted media environment such as exists in China, the internet is important for accessing first-hand information. Liu Jianqiang has worked as an environmental journalist in China for years.

"As I have seen, the editors keep an eye on the internet every day," he says. "Maybe they spend three, four hours to surf the internet to find news. And if they find a good news story, they will send journalists to pursue it and write an article. This is very common in China!"

Liu Jianqiang

Liu Jianqiang from Beijing

But Liu Jianqiang also cautions against over-estimating the power of the internet, which he believes cannot provide as comprehensive and balanced information as a traditional newspaper article.

Pakistani journalist Naveen Naqvi also uses the internet as a source of information. She talks about researching a story earlier this year about an artificial lake that has formed in northern Pakistan's Hunza region since a landslide and is at risk of spilling over and flooding surrounding villages:

"It was a huge story. All the media organizations arrived with their cameras and they were all standing there and reporting live. And all the politicians arrived, so all the politicians were being interviewed. But nobody was really talking to the guys on the ground. And this guy who lives in Hunza, he was tweeting constantly. And I noticed that here is this fellow who is constantly talking about Hunza and so I talked to him. And he had so much to say! He told me the real story and next thing you know he was being quoted in other newspapers after I wrote a blog post about him."

Taking questions from Facebook

Naqvi used to host a TV show, in which she would collect questions from internet users and put them to politicians who were her guests:

"The people on Twitter or on Facebook, being behind a computer screen, would be asking questions that are much more adventurous, much harder, much more aggressive. And so, for a broadcast journalist like me, with the political pressures and also editorial pressures, I used it to my advantage!"

No doubt: In hierarchical societies, the internet has given completely new opportunities to ordinary citizens to have their say in the mainstream media. Until now, there is only one major limitation in most Asian countries: The poor population, particularly in the countryside, is simply not online yet.

Author: Thomas Baerthlein
Editor: Anne Thomas

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