Defending nature with microphone 1

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A German-Indonesian radio project tries to make forest conservation more popular
By Anett Keller

Indonesia, the host of the climate summit in December, has a poor environmental record. An area of forest the size of five football fields is destroyed every minute in the country. The slashing and burning of its rainforests places the country among the world’s biggest carbon dioxide polluters.

The United Nations could not have found a more fitting place for the climate summit than Indonesia. In this land of more than 13,000 islands, tropical rainforest is disappearing faster than anywhere else on Earth. Indonesia has lost four million hectares of forest in the past 25 years – that is 60 percent of the country’s total.

The trees are used to make cheap plywood, weatherproof garden furniture, glossy magazines and toilet paper. Increasingly more of the land is converted into plantations to feed the growing hunger for bio-fuels made from palm oil. The slashing and burning of Indonesia’s jungles has dramatic consequences for the world climate: their layers of humus –many meters thick – bind carbon.

For Germany’s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle and its Indonesian language radio department, that was a good reason to raise awareness of the problem in the country itself. “The whole world is watching the big event in Bali,” said Hendra Pasuhuk, the program director. “But for many Indonesians, the destruction of the forests and the consequences for the environment are not the least bit important.”

Radio was the ideal medium with which to draw attention to the problem, as it is the most popular form of media in Indonesia. Along with the Indonesian partner station Radio KBR68H, and with support from the German Development Ministry, the forest conservation project went into action.

First, Indonesian radio journalists were called upon to work out an abstract on the subject of conservation. “It was important to us to get people who (themselves) came from the affected regions and were not reporting from the distant capital,” Pasuhuk said. Ten journalists from five provinces took part in a weeklong workshop in Jakarta at the end of October. They gained valuable input from environmentalists and forestry ministry officials. At the same time, they were supposed to turn their ideas into plans, which they could use as a basis for about 10 days of
research in their regions – accompanied by a colleague from Deutsche Welle. The aim of the project was to make a feature series of 10-minute reports to broadcast on about 400 local radio stations during the climate summit.

For the journalists involved, it was a rare opportunity to do some solid on-the-spot research – something their limited resources usually don’t allow, says Ade Wahyudi, program manager at KBR68H. “In the provinces in particular, journalists don’t have the technical or the financial
capacity for fact-finding trips,” he said, adding that the complex topic of forest conservation can best be communicated to listeners when presented in a lively way and told from the perspective of those affected.

The project yielded some interesting results. Some of the journalists went to the island of Kalimantan, looking for Sebuku elephants. Only a few dozen of them have survived the destruction of their habitat in the forests of East Kalimantan. In eastern Java, project members found a village where every single resident earns a living from illegal logging. Not even the police dare to go there.

Another team went to Poso and Palu in central Sulawesi, places famous for the black wood of the ebony tree. Officially, ebony is protected and the trees must not be felled. But the violent conflict in the region makes the rules hard to enforce and prevents reforestation programs.

The decades-long conflict in Papua between the local population and the central government with its huge army presence has also had an impact on the environment. The military, foreign companies, local officials – there are many different parties earning money in the timber trade.

Journalists dealing with the subject must navigate murky waters. “I received some phone calls where I felt threatened,” said Edith Koesoemawiria, a Deutsche Welle journalist. “And one time a man no one knew turned up and made it clear to me that I was not to report on logging.” She and her two local colleagues were investigating the situation in Papua. They reported on the problems in implementing reforestation programs. They visited villagers who cut down the huge
trees in their forests and sell the trunks to logging companies, just to feed their families – even though their area has been declared a nature reserve.

Although she was shocked by the degree of environmental destruction she found, Koesoemawiria is enthusiastic about the project. She says far too little is known in Indonesia about the long-term effects of cutting down the rainforests. “People do know that there are mudslides when the trees
have been cut down,” she said. “But hardly anyone realizes that the destruction of the forests has a negative impact on the climate.” She admits it is difficult to bring about a sustained new awareness. But for that very reason, she says, you can’t report on the dangers of destroying the rainforest too often.

The reports have been airing since Nov. 26. Partner stations across Indonesia have been broadcasting them. And the reports are even going out beyond the national borders. The “Asia Calling” program on KBR68H is rebroadcast by many stations in other Asian countries, in English and the national languages.

1 Responses So Far:

redapes said...

I think this radio project is brilliant and would love to learn more about how it was put together-- coordinating, financing, etc. Please contact me directly or via my website:

redapes [at]

Keep up the great work!

Richard Zimmerman
Director, Orangutan Outreach
Reach out and save the orangutans!

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