• Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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BusinessDay

Experts call for provision in PIA for media support to environment reporting

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…as academics want journalists to save the Earth

Issues of the environment took centre stage in the Niger Delta on May 3, 2024, where a call was made for a provision to be made to support media work in protection of the environment in the oil region.

Experts who made this submission in Port Harcourt on the World Press Freedom Day 2024 suggested that the provision could be made in the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) or through annual budgets in the Federal Ministry of Environment.

The suggestion came after technical papers and other contributions led by Aniefiok Udoudo, a professor in the Department of the Journalism & Media Studies of the University of Port Harcourt (Uniport) and another professor, Barigbon Nsereka, the head of department (HOD) of the department of Journalism and Media Studies of the Rivers State University (RSU).

The call for provisioning in the PIA or FME was sharpened by the moderator, Segun Owolabi, General Manager of Super FM in Port Harcourt.

The theme dwelt on ‘A Press for the Planet: Journalism in the Face of Environment Crisis’.

Nsereka insisted that the society must protect the environment and protect those expected to protect the environment (the press).

He traced the struggle for the environment from 1948 when the UN issued the Declaration of Human Rights to 1993 when Freedom of the Press was issued after pressure from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

He made it clear that African countries need freedom of the press to fight corruption. He placed a charge to journalists on the war against corruption and bad leadership and noted that the blood of the Ogoni people washed the environment of liberty in the fight for the protection of the environment.

In his intervention, Harcourt Whyte, another academic from the Uniport, said the climate is the new cause of concern because it is in need of protection. He regretted that issues of the environment have been overshadowed by political issues, adding that it is the duty of the journalists to champion it by bringing the issues to forefront.

Stanley Jobs Stanley, the chairman of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (Rivers State Council), traced the history of harms to journalists up to recent kidnapping cases. He called for insurance scheme for newsmen.

In his goodwill message, Nlerum Okogbule, the Vice Chancellor of the Rivers State University, who was represented a professor, Eric Amadi, urged Journalists to do more by asking the right and necessary questions to businesses and hold governments accountable.

One of the paper presenters mentioned challenges facing journalists in paying adequate professional attention to environment reporting such as training. The paper said the Journalist covering the region is a general beat Correspondent but finds himself covering specialized beats: Oil and Environment without any form of specialized training.

The paper said most state media (or home media) practitioners are under government employment and thus may lack independence in a region where every matter is seen as politics or is guided by interest.

The paper looked at two types of limitations to freedom: External (caused by govts and outside actors) and internal or self-censorship (when we decide or are unable to pursue stories) in particular sectors, such as the environment. Of the two, most veterans have found that self-censorship is worse.

On the environment issue, the paper said methane emission (hydro and anthropogenic sources) plus the Ogoni Clean Up seem to be two key flashpoints for Journalists. “You have associated problems such as soot, community restiveness, litigations, divestments, politics, crime, etc, that confront or confuse the Journalist.”

The presenter warned that the size of the problem can be seen in a media report of April 30, 2024 titled: African economies lose $13.7Bn to adverse climate. “The truth is that Africans hardly see Environment issues as serious, even when the net is fast closing on the continent. There is scant effort in adopting disaster risk reduction policy framework. The Report by UN Economic Commission for Africa with partners shows that Climate neglect affects 12.5m people in Africa in one aspect, and that only 29 countries have disaster reduction policies.”

The paper said there seems to be lack of awareness in the media space on key climate issues. “Many Journalists may not be aware that Nigeria signed the Global Methane Pledge to cut greenhouse pollution and reduce methane emissions by 45% by 2025 and 60-75% by 2030.

“However, in the short to medium term, Nigeria’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) is poised to develop gas as a transitional fuel for economic growth and a vehicle for alternative energy resources.

“You may also be aware that Nigeria already has a high incidence of flaring Associated Gas (AG) from its oil and gas investments, at almost 98% of the gas component.

“Besides this, oil spills arising from oil facility vandalism, human error, and equipment failure also aggravate methane emissions, sometimes near human habitations.

“So, one can only wonder what will happen with a full-blown gas economy, where gas will be actively exploited for Nigeria’s economic growth potential.”

Ogoni and HYPEP:

The paper said the environmental issues in the Ogoni could be captured as the Ogoni community being exposed to hydrocarbons every day through multiple routes. “While the impact of individual contaminated land sites tends to be localized, air pollution related to oil industry operations is all pervasive and affecting the quality of life of close to one million people.

“At the request of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) conducted an independent assessment of the environment and public health impacts of oil contamination in Ogoniland, in the Niger Delta, and options for remediation.”

The paper mentioned key achievements of the HYPREP such as cleaning up and treating over 10,000 tons of contaminated soil in Ogoni; carrying out restoration of mangrove forests where over 1,000 hectares of forest has been planted in different shoreline communities; provision of alternative livelihood in different skills such as catering, computer training, farming, and cabin crew for airplane services where five Ogoni sons and daughters have been employed by some air lines; infrastructure; water provision in 52 locations; shoreline protection activities; medical centre project; and many others.

The paper suggested solutions and ways to encourage the kind of journalism practice that could help in coverage of the Niger Delta environment.