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Training Journalists in Environment and their role in Environmental and Community Education

Wednesday 1 December 2004, by Polyxeni RAGOU

The medias are increasingly present in the environmental issues. For instance, the written press can play a major role for a stronger awareness of the environmental problems. It can prove to be a powerful educational instrument in the field of environment. Yet, the presentation of environmental issues causes specific journalistic problems. In fact, these issues are still not emphasized nor they are clearly presented, mainly because of a lack of scientific knowledge and the competition of the newspapers. This is especially true with the local written press of a middle size city.
We, as citizens, regularly read the local written press of our city, Lamia, in Greece. Papers on environmental issues are often published. In most cases, they deal with neighboring environmental problems.
To understand the meaning of the journalists papers on environmental issues, we made a qualitative analysis of the contents of the articles from five daily Lamia newspapers treating about environment, during a period of two years, with the help of the tools proposed by Yolanda ZIAKA (1995).

We have noticed that a certain number of questions were slightly or not treated at all, such as the responsibility of the actors involved and their role in the problem put forward, the causes and the origin of the problem, the impact on human health and on the ecosystems, or the presentation of potential alternative solutions.

We therefore decided to organize, in the setting of professional training, working days to discuss with the journalists involved in the local written press, to exchange our points of view on environment and environmental problems and to propose training elements on community education.

We invited the journalists to participate to information days and to discussion workshops with the following arguments:
· The media have an important responsibility in the public awareness of the environmental problems.
· The journalists are in charge of the urgent necessity to sensitize the public with whom they have a daily relationship to environment, and they can bring an important contribution to Environmental Education to the general public. We therefore have common interests.
· The adult public inquires and educates himself on the environmental issues mainly through the media. As a consequence, the role of the written press in the public perception on the environment is important. The journalists have an essential responsibility in what is information and education of the general public on the environmental questions.
· The written press must provide the general public with the basic knowledge that would help him make choices, contribute to the awareness of the individual and collective responsibility on the environmental management, and incite him to involve in daily actions in this sense.

The days we have organized had the following objectives:
1. To introduce the journalists to an environmental issue.
2. To train the journalists on the complex approach.
3. To train on environmental knowledge.
4. To try to reinforce the critical attitude of the journalists by developing a global approach on environment.

To reach these objectives, we implemented the following methods:
-  analysis of the content,
-  a systemic approach as a tool for analyzing complex situations.

The journalists accepted to participate to the working days. To start the discussion we proceeded as such: we selected some articles among those analyzed as described previously, that were written by journalists participating in the experience. For each article we erased the name of the author and of the newspaper. We gave the texts to the journalists and asked them to identify :

-  the nature of the treated problem,
-  the causes of the problem,
-  the actors involved, being responsible or not,
-  the impact of the problem on human beings and on the ecosystems,
-  the possible solutions.

Most of the readers-journalists could not identify the elements we asked for. They admitted that the articles were deficient. Their answers allowed us to note that they needed an additional information on the points we asked for.
This experience brings us to the fifth proposal of this proposal booklet:
Get organizations and socio-professional associations to act as a relay and driving forces for the development of Environmental Education and Community Education for the general public.

Which brings to the essential role of the media on environment and to the necessity of a solid training for the journalists on the environmental issues.

Bibliography : Yolanda ZIAKA, 1995, The Environmental Education for adults through the media : didactic aspects in the case of the written press (in French), Doctorate in Didactics in Biology and Environmental Education, University of Paris 7, Department of Education in the Disciplines Didactics, Paris, France.