Polishing the lenses to document threats to rivers

SEAPA’s 2012 Annual Journalism Fellowship begins

fellowship[Bangkok]  The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) conducted on 20-23 June the orientation for the 11 participants in its Annual Journalism Fellowships (SAF) for 2012.

The orientation was organized to assist fellows in planning for their respective stories. It also facilitated information sharing among them as journalists and with experts on this year’s theme, Documenting Threats to Rivers. The 2012 fellows come from seven countries–Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam.

(See more photos of the orientation at SEAPA’s Facebook page)

This year’s fellowship program is being held in cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Expert Sessions

Three experts on rivers, environmental conservation and water management provided inputs to help participants better contextualise their planned stories.

senatorThai senator Mr Surajit Chiravet presented the negative impacts of urban development in the context of last year’s catastrophic floods in Thailand. He emphasized that improper building practices and overpopulation were one of the leading causes of the exacerbation of the flooding in Bangkok.

Furthermore, the senator asserted that upstream dams with more flexible designs would have reduced the impact of the floods. Mr. Surajit hoped that the authorities would learn from their failures and warned that failure to do so would see a repeat of the disaster.

In another presentation, Ms Pianporn Deetes, the Thailand Campaign Coordinator for the International Rivers Network (IRN), underlined the lack of transboundary responsibility on ecological consequences downstream caused by dams constructed upstream on the Mekong River.

paiShe also highlighted that no concrete mechanism is in place to solve this problem, which has put about 60% of the total Mekong River fish catch at risk, threatening the livelihood of the fishermen in the region. She is concerned that, “host countries should have strong environmental policy in order to protect its citizens’ livelihood as well as the countries’ natural resource before everything is gone.”

Pianporn urged regional and media to increase their coverage on the issue in order to raise public awareness and ultimately lead a regional community movement.

Finally, Mr Petch Manopawitr, a conservation scientist for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Thailand, shared about finding optimal solutions for the people and environment in regards to infrastructure development.

petchPetch emphasized that society required a holistic approach to conservation and development and that the two aspects were not mutually exclusive. He asserted that “climate change isnot limited to one country” and urged the ASEAN community to collaborate in eco-friendly projects.

Furthermore, he asserted that the natural habitat could play a pivotal role in reducing the impact of natural disasters, citing the use of mangroves and natural vegetation to absorb the flood impacts.

Editor’s Feedback

SEAPA invited Ms Cecile C. A. Balgos, an editor who has been editing the fellows’ stories since 2002, to provide the editorial guidance and feedback to the participants proposed stories. She emphasized that flexibility and having an open mind was essential, as was digesting the information and making it understandable for the reader.

The editorial session helped the fellows to clarify their contents, feasibility of their operation, and to stay on the course of proposed theme.

UNEP Visit

The 2012 fellows also visited the UNEP Office to hear from a number of experts from various fields on the challenges and successes faced by UNEP’s work in Southeast Asia.

Topics ranged from problems in the preservation of the coral reef to the success of the Montreal Convention. All in all, the fellows gained a valuable insight into the technical aspects of their proposed topics while also getting some contacts for their research.

The session was hosted by Ms Dechen Tsering, a Deputy Regional Director and Ms. Satwant Kaur, a Regional Information Officer at the UNEP headquarters in Bangkok.

Sharing on press freedom

During the orientation, the fellows discuss their respective outlooks on their country’s press freedom situation. The interactive session saw various questions from their peers  on each presentation.

The activity provided fresh and first-hand information from their peers who resided in the countries they would be visiting, and also providing visiting fellows with a different perspective about their native country.

Adding Visuals

To help fellows better document their experiences, SEAPA invited an award-winning photojournalist Mr Suthep Kritsanavarin to share some techniques used in his work in photographing social and environmental issues.

Suthep also talked about his observations on the issues and his current work Siphandon, which examines the lower Mekong as one of the world’s most productive fisheries. The area provides 80% of the protein intake for 56 million people living in the Mekong region.

suthepwebsiteHis photos captured the essence of the local culture and traditional livelihood, and explained the importance of rivers of Mekong, which has been threatened by numerous dam-constructions. His captivating work provided knowledge and inspiration for the fellows to report in a visual and colorful way.

The orientation ended as the fellows left for their proposed countries in Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, and Singapore to conduct their field research.

After three weeks, a four-day debriefing program will be held to facilitate processing of the fellows initial findings and draft articles. (by Birat Lekhak, SEAPA Intern)

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