Environmental journalism in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: An obstacle course

Alfred Ntumba, journalist and founder of Congolese environmental news outlet ENVIRONEWS DRC. Axel Fassio, CIFOR
3 May 2019
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This post is also available in: French

Climate change has been a wakeup call for media professionals. Floods and droughts, natural disasters, and growing epidemics are increasingly attracting the attention of journalists worldwide – not only because they are on the lookout for information, but also because they are victims, just like the rest of the global population.

In the West, “environmental journalism” boomed the 1990s as a response to the growing need to communicate climate challenges. However, in Central Africa the discipline remains in early stages.

In Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where I live, there is an increasing interest in environmental issues. Nevertheless, the complexity and global nature of these issues represent a major barrier for media professionals and restrain their commitment to getting involved in this cause.

In any case, those who are determined to succeed persevere.

LEARNING THE LANGUAGE

Environmental journalism in the DRC is a tough obstacle course. The road, just like Congolese roads, is tortuous and full of pitfalls.

I still remember the start of my career as an environmental journalist, in 2013, when I launched my media organization ENVIRONEWS DRC. Nobody thought I was going to succeed. “My brother, I advise you to get started in political journalism, a discipline that you followed brilliantly at the University. It will be very difficult for you to succeed in the environmental field,” my mentor used to tell me.

Indeed, the environmental field is complex. Specialists expect well-prepared journalists in front of them, with pertinent questions. This is not easy for someone who has never learned the field-specific jargon through his or her studies.

Without mentor or referral, I threw myself into a struggle first to learn and understand the field, and then to try to apply journalistic techniques learned at school to collect, process and disseminate environmental information.

A long way gone, today I have become a reference for many young journalists who pursue the environmental field, with whom I regularly share my motivation and my success model.

TRAINING NEEDED

The DRC hosts the world’s second-largest swatch of rainforests, comprising 60 percent of all rainforests in the Congo Basin. Therefore, we environmental journalists have the responsibility to educate, train and inform over 80 million Congolese people on how to preserve these forests. For this huge task, we need an arsenal of “soldiers,” equipped with both journalistic and environmental knowledge.

Unfortunately, the biggest constraint is lack of training. The biggest school of journalism in the country, the Information and Communication Sciences Institute (IFASIC), has only two sections: political journalism and economic journalism. Those eager to tackle environmental issues have no other choice but to learn on the job through personal research or exchanges with experts.

Aware of this difficulty, we at ENVIRONEWS DRC have initiated a training project for journalists, funded by UNESCO. Thanks to this support, we have trained a few dozen of journalists, including 27 in Kinshasa.

RISING SIGNS

A significant milestone in environmental journalism in the DRC occurred a few years ago as journalists began to organize themselves into networks, such as the Green Journalists Network, the Association of Environmental Journalists of Maniema (AJEMA), and the Communicators Network for the Environment (RCEN), which facilitate collaborations.

The support of international organizations, such as the European Union through the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), UNESCO, or the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), has also contributed to the growing number of radio and television broadcasts and the emergence of specialized media.

Today in Kinshasa, as in the interior of the DRC, there are dozens of environmental journalists, even if their conditions remain difficult.

ENVIRONNEWS DRC has this year launched a TV channel specialized in environmental topics – a first in Africa. With this initiative, we want to give space for expression to more journalists and to boost the sector.



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