Environmental communication has now emerged as strong complementary practice to environmental education. A broad definition of environmental communication would be, “the sharing of information, insights and opinions on environmental issues, trends, conditions and solutions using any means of communications, ranging from inter-personal methods to means of mass communication using the modern as well as traditional media”. In this sense, environmental educators constantly engage in environmental communication. However, an important distinction is that, while all environmental educators are communicators, not all environmental communicators are necessarily educators. Across the Indian Region, individuals and institutions engage in a very wide range of environmental communication activities with varying degrees of sophistication, outreach and impact.
Communication Trends
In the mid to late 1990s, the main focus in environmental communication was to inspire positive behaviour, on the part of individuals, communities, corporate and industrial bodies and others, to help conserve the environment and achieve sustainable development.
A key issue for many countries in the region is to integrate environment into development policy, and to use communication and education in an integrated way as an instrument of policy. There is, however, a tendency to focus on formal school education target groups, both by governments and NGOs, rather than addressing other groups who canmake a difference in a policy issue, or in an immediate practical sense.
One of the major channels through which environmental communication is practised is the mass media, which includes both print and electronic sections. The communication media in Indiaunderwent rapid change during the 1990s, with liberalization of media policies allowing private sector involvement, spread of global media networks owned by trans-national companies and the proliferation of new communication technologies which have removed the barrier of large investments required to enter the media field.
 Print Media
Environmental reporting is now well-established within the region’s print media, newspapers and magazines. Investigative journalism on environmental issues has resulted in exposing environmentally damaging plans, polices or practices. Newspaper exposures and subsequent public pressure have forced governments, local authorities, industries and others to change their plans, to tighten laws and regulations, and to abandon certain development projects whose environmental and social costs outweighed any benefits.
 Broadcast Media
The broadcast media, radio and television, in all their variations, have established themselves as the most pervasive and powerful forms of mass media in India today. They represent a major channel through which information on environment can be conveyed to the people Recognising the need for programmes in the regional language and context, major international media groups have associated with regional and national companies.
A wide range of activist groups and media organizations also produce television and radio programmes on environmental issues, using the media as a means to raise awareness. For instance, since 1996, the Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists (NEFEJ) has been producing a weekly radio programme for Radio Nepal on community forestry. Called “Samudayik Ban”, it is produced on behalf of the Federation of Community Forest Users in Nepal, and is designed to support community forest user groups through sharing experiences on policies and practices. Similar community radio broadcasts are also taking place from a number of radio stations in the region.
 Major Constraints and Responses
Even though the quantity of environmental coverage in the region’s media has continued to increase since the mid-1990s, several constraints and drawbacks remain. A major difficulty faced by journalists and producers covering the environment is access to reliable sources of information and having the technical information interpreted by experts. Although identified some time ago, the response to this constraint has been slow. The restriction of access to information by the public and media, still prevails in some countries and inhibits open coverage, discussion and debate of issues that are of public interest. However, in many countries, environmental activists and government agencies handling the subject of environment have not developed fruitful media relations and use the media only to generate publicity for events and individual actions. While such publicity campaigns are useful, the greater interests of communities and sustainable development are better served by permitting investigative, balanced and accurate reporting.

Environmental journalism encounters other problems that are not easily overcome. For example, bottlenecks sometimes exist, where editors and programme managers may not appreciate, and thus pay limited attention to, environmental news. These bottlenecks remain partly because the sensitization that has occurred among reporters and producers has not been extended sufficiently well to cover the media gatekeepers.

 The Internet and World Wide Web
Recent years have seen the extremely rapid growth and development of the Internet as an information provider. According to the International Data Corporation, the number of Internet Web users in the Indian will rise from 6.5 million in March 1998 to 29.3 million by the year 2001 . However, large disparities in access and use of the Internet exist across the region and in individual nations. Major constraints remain that hinder the rapid expansion in Internet access in developing countries such as: poor telecommunications (lack of working phone lines); an inability to afford computers; and the higher cost of providing Internet services. However it is predicted that the Internet will move from a minority to a mass medium, with wide accessibility in a short period of time.

During the past few years, an increasing number of environmental organizations in the region have recognized the potential of the Internet and started using it for exchanging information; for advocacy and activism; for public awareness and education; as well as for publicity and promotional purposes. Although the number of websites with a strong environmental content originating from the region is still numerically low, the quality and scope of some of the currently available sites are impressive.

 Traditional Media
For many years, environmental communicators have recognized the value and power of using folklore and traditional media, such as, dance, songs, drama, puppetry and miming, to take environment and development messages to the public. Historically, traditional or folk media have often played a role in the communication and promotion of new ideas, apart from its traditional role of preserving and teaching established values. Today, in spite of advances in the modern forms of mass media, many people still relate more readily and easily to traditional media, which are closer to their local cultures, and are often more interactive and participatory than the regular forms of mass media.Various forms of traditional media are being used or adapted to convey environmental messages to children, communities and specific target groups in different countries of the Indian Region.

SOURCE: Environmental Education in Asia and the Pacific

The author of this article is Asst. Professor, Pioneer Institute of Professional Studies, Indore

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