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Indonesia's green information gap

Indonesia's green information gap
From Al Jazeera - November 12, 2017

With temperatures and sea levels rising alarmingly, putting 2,000 of the country's islands and 42 million households at risk of drowning by 2050, one would expect environmental news to top the agenda in Indonesia.

But when you look at mainstream media there, it is hard to find stories that go beyond catastrophes like forest fires or mudslides, examining who and what is behind them.

In 2015, huge fires swept through Indonesia's rainforests. About 2.6 million hectares of forest (an area roughly the size of Rwanda) was set aflame to clear space for palm oil plantations. The fires produced - in just three weeks - more greenhouse gases than Germany does in an entire year.

Forest fires have become an annual occurrence in Indonesia, and still, the country's media seldom devote the column inches and airtime needed to explore the causes behind them.

"It is easier for journalists to cover sports or the economy, because they have scores and numbers," explains Harry Surjadi, head of the Indonesian Society of Environmental Journalists. "Those stories are much easier to write than environmental stories, where journalists have to understand biology, ecology, waste and chemistry."

When they do cover forest fires or the effects of mining, they leave out "subjects like 'water poisoned due to toxic waste or air pollution' because they do not know enough about those subjects", points out Merah Ismail, campaign manager for JATAM NGO, a mining advocacy network.

Crucial to how Indonesia's news outlets cover the environment - and its destruction - is the shape of the media landscape.

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