The Role of the Media in Environmental Impact Assessment: An African Perspective

Author: Brian Aboh

The process of environmental impact assessment (EIA) has been in existence for four decades and its effect is felt worldwide.  EIA results have been accompanied with a lot of shortcomings attributed to institutional, legal and technical problems. Though, much is being done to address these issues, the EIA process still needs improvement. One major way to advance the process is through increased use of the media [1].  Media coverage on the practice of EIA is limited; Journalists mainly cover meetings or publicize information provided by the authorities, civil societies, pressure groups and project proponents.  The media should actually be involved in the EIA process as a stakeholder by reporting on the project during discussion and implementation stages, which in turn will be beneficial to the media company, its staff and the public [2].

The reluctance of editors and reporters to cover articles on the environment or EIA process is a result of their limited background on environmental issues especially in Africa.  Another reason is that most media companies in Africa are hesitant to cover environmental issues for fear of losing money and/or being persecuted by governments [2]. This shortcoming has led to the training of environmental journalists with the assistance of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), but this program’s impact is still limited.  Adequate funding, reorientation and repackaging of environmentally sensitive and innovative project reporting to make it more interesting and marketable would be another way forward [2].

An Interview with Prof. Wangari Mathaai

 African governments should be actively involved in promoting the use of media in EIA initiatives. For example, in Bulgaria the Government established an excellent environmental reporting capacity with the country’s media sector through regular press conferences and massive public awareness campaigns [5]. In the 1990s, the Chinese media was very instrumental as environmental watchdogs in supervising offenders and communicating with the public which was made possible through Chinese government encouragement [6]. Lei Yang (2008) has suggested that reporters should be in communication with academia, scientists, NGOs and other stakeholders for comprehensive media reporting of environmental issues.

Another good example is the media coverage that drew the attention of the world to the injustice and oppression by the then military dictator (Gen. Sani Abacha) in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria. In 1995, eco-activist and writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists (the “Ogoni eight”) were executed due to their stand against oil extraction and it’s environmental impacts which got considerable media coverage worldwide [3]. The media can also serve as useful tool to educate illiterate groups in a community about EIA practices. These can be achieved by the simplified reporting  of projects impacts through public debates and inquiries, television and radio programmes, visual aids and billboards, and sensitizing the community via theatrical shows [4].

The future of African countries in transparent EIA practices is dependent on the communication of findings and recommendations of EIA reports through the media to combat environmental degradations, social and economic frustrations, and violent conflict. These include the media’s simplification of cumbersome technical and complex presentation of EIAs, the consideration of cultural and language barriers, and the accessibility of EIA reports through the media.

Reference

[1]Kakonge, J.O (2006).Environmental Planning in Sub-Saharan Africa: Environmental Impact Assessment at the Crossroads. Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Working Paper No. 9. http://environment.research.yale.edu/documents/downloads/v-z/wp_9_africa_eia.pdf. [Accessed 17 March 2014].

[2]Kakonge, J.O (2012).  Media and the Environmental Impact Assessment Process in Africa: A Synopsis. Global Policy Journal. http://www.globalpolicyjournal.com/blog/21/05/2012/media-and-environmental-impact-assessment-process-africa-synopsis. [Accessed 17 March 2014].

[3]Nwagbara, U. (2010). “The Nigerian Press, the Public Sphere and Sustainable Development: Engaging the Post-amnesty Deal in the Niger Delta”, Journal of Sustainable Development in Africa, vol. 12, No. 3. http://www.jsdafrica.com/Jsda/V12No3_Summer2010_A/PDF/The%20nigerian%20Press,%2.[ Accessed 17 March 2014].

[4]Rowan-Robinson, J., Ross, A., Walton, W., & Rothnie, J. (1996). Public access to environmental information: A means to what end? Journal of Environmental Law, vol.8, No 1, pp. 19-42. http://jel.oxfordjournals.org/content/8/1/19. [Accessed 17 March 2014].

[5]UNEP (2009.). Guideline 44: Public Environmental Awareness and Education, Manual on Compliance with and Enforcement of Multilateral Environmental Agreements. http://www.unep.org/dec/onlinemanual/Enforcement/InstitutionalFrameworks.. [Accessed 17 March 2014].

[6]Yang, L. (2008). The Role and Ability of the Media to Promote Environmental Awareness; Perspectives from China. Presentation at the 4th Asia-Europe Editor’s Roundtable, 22-23 October, Beijing. http://english.cri.cn/2946/2008/10/24/53s417625.htm.  [Accessed 17 March 2014].

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