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How We Supported Young Climate Journalists in Indonesia

Indonesia has always been at the center of international’s attention in regards to climate change thanks to its vast resources of — among others — rainforest, mangroves, and peatlands, or what’s left of them. But the government has been complacent and instead gave more opportunities for businesses to use them for profit instead of saving the planet.

We believe that strong and independent journalists in the country would be the key to prevent further destructions by performing checks and balances on the government’s action against the climate crisis. But this is unfortunately not the case in the Southeast Asian country.

According to data from Media Landscapes, Indonesia has both the largest market and media industry in Southeast Asia, with more than 47,000 different outlets across the country as of 2017. But the country’s media landscape is dominated by 12 major media conglomerates which reporting serve the owners’ interest — most of whom include significant stakes in the energy industry, specifically, coal.

This allows fossil fuel to be framed more positively in the media compared to at least four other countries in the region. We found in the media research we conducted in the country that coal mining had been emphasized as having an indispensable role in the country’s economy, despite its potential and actual environmental harms. Media reports also rarely give spotlights to renewable energy.

Even in the hard times amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Indonesian journalists and media still gave little to none attention to the greener way of life. While the outbreak is framed as a catalyst for change, the issue of green transition is still a0 major underreported story. The coverage for a green transition after the pandemic has also depended largely on the government’s agenda rather than advocacy messages. The published stories seldom adopt a human impact frame, making them irrelevant for the readers.

Judging from the condition, we saw that it’s important for us to help to increase Indonesian journalists’ capacity in reporting important climate and environmental issues in their country.
We started realizing our mission by conducting online training with 10 aspiring journalists in various Indonesian islands on the issue of sustainable diets and agriculture. The training was provided by another Indonesian journalist with vast experience in reporting climate and environmental issues, as well as researchers who have been working on the issue for years. Apart from providing workshops on techniques that can improve their reporting and journalism skills, we also provided training to deepen their understanding of the thematic issue of sustainable diets and agriculture.

Photos of Sustainable Diets and Agriculture online training participants.

Most training participants said the training had been benefitting them in their work on reporting environmental issues across Indonesia. Togar Harahap, a Fajar Indonesia Network journalist, said the training had been helping him see the connection between climate change and food security as well as agriculture. “From this training, I know that a journalist shouldn’t only report on the news, but also advocate [important issues in the community],” Togar said after the 4-week training.

Togar and three other journalists were later selected to participate in an 8-week media fellowship to produce in-depth stories on issues pertaining the sustainable diets and agriculture. Climate Tracker staff worked with other Indonesian journalists in mentoring the fellows to report this important-yet-underreported issue better.

Despite claims that she rarely writes stories on food and agriculture issues, Suara Merdeka journalist Siti Isnawati wrote a compelling story about the potential of sorghum in replacing rice as the country’s staple food. She said the fellowship had helped her learning new knowledge about the issue.

Siti’s story about sorghum farming in Central Java. The story was published at suaramerdeka.com on Sept. 29, 2020.

“After participating in the program, I understand that I can write stories about foods and agriculture from many perspectives, for example, health and the environment,” said Siti who lives and works in Central Java.

Togar himself wrote about a group of women in suburban Jakarta who uses a plot of land near their home to grow vegetables for self-consumption as well as being sold.

We didn’t stop at the rice field. Reflecting on our findings with the COVID-19 pandemic, we also worked with more Indonesian journalists to look at how the country is planning to rebuild itself using a just and green transition approach. Four selected Indonesian storytellers worked together with Climate Tracker along with their counterparts from Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

During a six-week mentoring program, the fellows participated in online group and individual mentoring sessions not only with mentors from Southeast Asia but also from Europe that focuses on learning to report the climate issues in relation to the pandemic. 

As part of the mentoring process, the fellows were required to write one article each month and published them in national publications. By the end of the program, we had eight articles from the four Indonesian journalists and writers highlighting the country’s struggle to do a just and green transition from the pandemic.
“In spite of its initial slow response to the current global crisis, the Indonesian government was quick to set up a national economic recovery (PEN) program to address any fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Andi Muhammad Ibnu Aqil wrote to open his story about Indonesia’s green transition from the pandemic published at The Jakarta Post.

Andi’s story as published at The Jakarta Post on Nov. 27, 2020.

“However, upon closer examination of the program, there is little to suggest there is a strong commitment by the state to direct the country toward a “greener” economic recovery.”

We believe that our mission in Indonesia is far from over. Therefore, we want to continue our campaign in the country as there are still many journalists across the country who want to report on important and powerful climate stories but don’t have the resources to do so. This way, we might help these journalists in bringing their countries on the right track in mitigating one of the biggest crises the Earth has ever seen.