"Green City:" Indonesian Newspaper Launches Weekly Environmental Report

Mar 222008

On March 17, 2008, Tribun Pekanbaru, a local newspaper that is part of the Persda newspaper group in Indonesia, published a photo showing used syringes floating in the drain of Ibu dan Anak (Mother and Child) Zaenab Hospital. A private hospital in Pekanbaru, capital of Riau Province in Sumatra, Ibu dan Anak Zaenab treats mothers and children. Like all but three hospitals in the province, it does not have a waste water treatment facility, nor does it have an incinerator to burn medical and hospital waste. The reason, according to the hospital’s director, is a lack of funds.

"The price is billions of rupiah (hundreds of thousands of dollars). We can’t afford it. Until now we are trying to return the investment," the story quoted Diana Trabani, Ibu dan Anak Zaenab’s director, as saying, referring to investment that has been made in the hospital.

Another story in the first environmental section broke news. Provincial Health Office official Burhanuddin Agung, M.D., told the reporter that in 2009 all hospitals in Riau Province would have waste water treatment plants. However, he didn’t say what he will do to force all hospitals to comply with regulations on handling medicinal wastes.

The stories were among three in Tribun Pekanbaru’s first weekly report on environmental conditions in the region. "Green City," the name of the environmental section, will be published every Monday. Muhammad Hanshardi is the editor who oversees the section.

Hanshardi participated in an environmental training workshop I conducted in Pekanbaru in 2003. Naning Nurtriana, the reporter who produced the stories for the first edition of "Green City," joined the environmental journalism training workshop I held in February 2008 as part of my Knight International Journalism Fellowship.

Among my Fellowship program goals: to help media partners establish regular environmental sections. I am working with six local newspapers that are part of the Pers Daerah (local press) network of Kompas Daily, Indonesia’s largest newspaper.

Environmental journalism is new for most local Indonesian journalists. Covering the environment is not popular in Indonesia, where media skills need development. This makes it difficult for some journalists to understand and write accurately about such complex issues. Also, some editors think environmental stories don’t "sell." They believe people prefer to read stories about politics or the economy.

Of the more than 100 newspapers in Indonesia, perhaps fewer than 10 publish a weekly environment section. The Jakarta Post and Media Indonesia are two national dailies that produce weekly reports on the environment. Until Tribun Pekanbaru inaugurated its environmental section this month, Riau Pos, also published in Riau Province, may have been the only local newspaper that had a regular Sunday environmental section.

The Fellowship strategy is to introduce environmental reporting and environmental issues to reporters through training workshops. The workshops give reporters and editors the chance to work on basic journalism skills, develop a better understanding of environmental issues, and increase their interest in covering stories on the environment. Reporters begin by participating in a three-day training session. Their editors have a one-day workshop. After that, I act as a coach as they develop story ideas and plan coverage.

My program has two main goals: to help six newspapers in the Persda network establish environmental sections, and to increase the quality and quantity of environmental stories in other local media. The improvement in the quality and quantity of environmental news is intended to inform the public about local practices and to help impact government policies on the environment, such as the proper treatment of hospital wastes – the focus of the Tribun Pekanbaru’s first special section.

To achieve these goals and impacts, I found there needs to be a clear commitment to improving environmental coverage from top media management and editors. Persda of Kompas Group has 10 local newspapers (and will add one more in 2008) in 10 different areas throughout Indonesia. The top management of Persda realizes that they can help local government and local people cope with environmental problems through thorough and accurate coverage. Persda and ICFJ signed a memorandum of understanding in 2007 on establishing environmental sections in their six newspapers at the start of the Fellowship program.

In the case of Tribun Pekanbaru, after the workshop, I worked closely with Hanshardi and Editor-in-Chief Dodi Sarjana. Less than a month after the training session, Tribun Pekanbaru published its first environmental edition.

Sarjana says he was very eager to launch the weekly environmental section. "We will publish the environmental section as soon as possible," he said after the workshop. Based on formal and informal discussions, I worked with Dodi and Hanshardi to develop the concept for the weekly environmental report. We then worked on story ideas. The first "Green City" was published on March 17, 2008. Now, "Green City" will be published every Monday.