REDD+ and the media: the missing stakeholder?

-Oslo REDD+ Exchange 2016

This blog draws on discussions which took place at the Oslo REDD+ Exchange between 500 policy makers, government officials, civil society actors and indigenous peoples’ representatives. This blog considers the main challenges and spaces for improvement for REDD+ highlighted in key sessions during the conference.

By Thomas Bates

Who are the key stakeholders in the REDD+ process? Governments, Civil Society Organisations, Indigenous Peoples and private sector investors immediately come to mind, but one can argue that the media has just as an important role in the REDD+ process.

Rhett Butler, the CEO of Mongabay (an online platform for environmental journalism and conservation news, with over a million visitors a month) suggested that the media is an essential “way to increase transparency, which then supports better accountability” of REDD+ and the actors involved. The media sector has a unique position; “Journalists ask questions that scientists don’t ask, NGOs don’t pursue, and governments can’t really ask”

This blog will draw upon comments from Rhett Butler during the debate on practical tools for monitoring and implementation, and draw upon my personal discussions during the Oslo REDD+ Exchange Conference, discussing the role of the media, how it undertakes a role in REDD+, and how technological development has influenced media actions.

What is the role of the media?

Butler summarised the role of the media as facilitating “transparency, which then supports better accountability.” The media has the ability to hold different stakeholders, such as national Governments, Civil Society Organisations and private sector actors, to the same standard by acting as “a third party verification system.” He continued to argue that many countries don’t report accurate data, and cited an example of a cacao company in Peru which claimed not to have cut down any trees; however, simple investigative journalism identified deforestation occurring. The investigative nature of the media ultimately forced “countries to become more credible.”

The media is also an important vehicle for mediating issues between stakeholders and the general public. BBC Media Action, the international development NGO of the BBC, is currently working in partnership with NORAD (Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation) to “enable the general public in Indonesia to understand more about forest management,” through discussion programmes that “provide a platform for people to question their political leaders about economic decisions being made about the country’s natural resources, to debate solutions, and to hold decision-makers to account.” In a process as complex and technical as REDD+, media has the ability to simplify a story and translate the content into accessible and appropriate communication.

Media and technology: opening doors?

Butler acknowledged that without advances in technology, Mongabay’s ability to report widely on conservation matters would be restricted; innovative technologies have enabled Mongabay to “extend [their] capabilities.” In particular, Butler referenced access to visualisation tools as a great asset for telling a story and an access point for investigatory journalism because satellite imagery can be used to identify and fact check potential stories. Furthermore, technological advances have opened up “new angles” for journalism. Butler discussed on the ground technologies such as ‘camera traps’ and ‘forest listening apps’ which can be used to investigate illegal logging ventures. Finally, the proliferation of simple technologies such as mobile phones has enabled media bodies to extend their reach to areas previously inaccessible; the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) highlight a case where rangers use Facebook to “monitor and verify changes in their forests,” share data rapidly, and be available for communication.

What next for the media and REDD+?

The unique and important role of the media in the REDD+ process is generally overlooked. Butler was introduced as the “only media representative here as a participant” and his insight provided a welcome and differing outlook. So much information has been generated during the REDD+ process, especially due to technological advances, but very little of it is accessible to the general public; media organisations have the ability to communicate this information in a simple message.

Are the media really impartial in the context of REDD+? Both Mongabay and BBC Media Action have “agreements” with NORAD, though both organisations have a history of impartiality and authority which should be accepted. With greater gains in technology and an increased demand for participation from both the State and private sector, media organisations should be embraced by REDD+ processes to ensure transparency, accuracy and accountability.

Tom is currently studying an MSc in International Development and Environmental Change at the University of Sheffield. His areas of interest include: green spaces, environmental education and green technologies. Tom visited the Oslo REDD+ Exchange as part of the Global Leadership Initiative.

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