Journalists and scientists seeking Green Accord

Can journalists save the planet?

This was the question I raised in a blog post written in April 2007. Arguing that environmental journalists alone cannot adequately address the multitude of complex environmental challenges faced today, I wrote: “We urgently need more good journalism that covers sustainable development as an integral part of mainstream human affairs.”

For the past five years, an Italian non-profit cultural association named Greenaccord has been attempting just this. In the (northern hemisphere) Fall of each year, they invite and host 50 – 60 journalists and scientists from all over the world to discuss how the media can be an integral part of society’s response to today’s environmental crises. In fact, they believe the media must play a path-finder role in our search for solutions.

During this week, I have been attending the V Greenaccord International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature, held from 7 to 11 Novmeber 2007 at the historic Villa Mondragone in Frascati, some 20km south east of Rome.

It has been a time to meet old friends again and to make new ones. I have been part four of the five Greenaccord media forums since the first one was held in Rapolane Terme, in the Tuscany valley in northern Italy in 2002.

Greenaccord is the only regular (annual) meeting that I know of where practising journalists and media gatekeepers come together from all regions of the world to discuss the state of the planet and state of their profession.

Each year, we have some ‘regulars’ returning while new participants join the growing network. As some old hands noted this week, it is evolving into an extended family.

That family consists mainly of print and broadcast media journalists from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. Many are engaged in ‘deadline journalism’ of news and current affairs, while a few of us, like myself, have moved on to more reflective and analytical kind of journalism. We also have a few researchers, activists and public information officers among us, enriching our discussions with a diversity of perspectives.

To engage this group of participants over three and a half days, Greenaccord invites a dozen or so scientific or industry experts from different regions of the world and different disciplines. This year’s theme, ‘Capitalising on the Environment’, was explored by business leaders, fair trade activists, economists and a number of technical experts specialising in fields such as clean energy, clean technology and organic farming.

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As with all meetings, some speakers were far more interesting than others. And some sessions were blessed with competent chairpersons who kept overenthusiastic speakers in check and allowed meaningful discussion and debate to happen.

Sitting through such meetings is a bit like gem mining. One has to sift through a lot of gravel to find a rare precious gem. When that happens, it’s well worth the hassle.

Well, I’ve had my share of gravel moments (zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!) and precious moments (Eureka!) this week. I’ll write separate blog posts on some of the latter. They are indeed worth sharing.

The real stars (or gems if you like) in this whole exercise are the participants themselves. We come from such diverse backgrounds – the sessions are supported by simultaneous interpretation in English, Spanish and Italian, with an occasional remark in French – that we enrich each other by simply being there.

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Some of us can barely contain our passion for what we do, and keep making comments or asking questions at every available opportunity. Others are more quiet during sessions but expressive during the many hours of networking and socialising over fine Italian wine, coffee and gastronomical treats. All these are part of Greenaccord’s cultural diversity that we contribute to, and then celebrate.

Even if we don’t take ourselves too seriously, we do discuss sobering issues. On the one hand, the planet is in peril, largely thanks to human bungling over generations. On the other, mass media itself is in crisis in many countries — under siege from oppressive governments, grappling with limitations of money and skills, and facing competition from new media platforms grabbing audiences and revenue.

For example, a colleague from Cameroon found the government closing down his privately owned FM radio station just a couple of days before he left for Rome. Others had worrying tales to share about official censorship, physical violence unleashed on media organisations and journalists, and the tension between media owners’ interests and the public interest.

We expressed solidarity and support for all Greenaccord colleagues currently experiencing difficulties of various kinds. The spirit of camaraderie in this network is strong – and keeps growing.

So is all this networking and meeting hopping a distraction from real work, which each one of us have to perform at our desks, or in our studios, on an individual basis? I don’t think so. Far from being a drag on my time, I find gatherings like Greenaccord inspiring and energising. They also remind me that I’m not alone in the daily struggle and drudgery of deadlines, government bureaucracies, funding crises and a never-ending race to keep up with new media technologies.

A planet in peril and a media in crisis need more platforms like this to connect and support many more of our kind who weren’t in Rome this week. Greenaccord isn’t perfect (we’re working on it), but it has lit more than a few candles against the looming darkness.

– Nalaka Gunawardene, Frascati, Rome: 10 November 2007

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Meeting photos courtesy Adrian Gilardoni’s Flickr account

One Response to “Journalists and scientists seeking Green Accord”

  1. GERARD GUEDEGBE Says:

    Just to congratulate you for the successful organisation of the conference. I was invited to attend that important gathering but I could not make my way to Rome because i’m going through a medical treatment. I do subscribe to all the outputs of the conference. If i can have any documents of that can help know more the results of the conference, it would be very helpful to me.
    Best regads
    Gerard Guedegbe


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