The Rwanda Environmental Journalists (REJ) is an organisation that seeks to increase the coverage of environmental issues in the media in Rwanda and to enhance the capacity of Rwandan journalists to report on environmental issues through workshops, networking, information sharing, and institutional development.

They spoke to Jamlab about raising awareness and promoting sustainable environmental management in Rwanda.

1. When was the organisation formed and who are the individuals behind it?

The Rwanda Environmental Journalist organisation was founded in 2019 by a group of dedicated environmental journalists. Their shared vision emphasised the significance of collaboration in exchanging information and expertise to enhance the effective reporting of environmental issues.

2. What is the status of environmental journalism in Rwanda?

Environmental journalism, like journalism as a whole, is a relatively new field, presenting the challenge of effectively informing the public. This is largely due to a lack of necessary skills among journalists. However, various initiatives, backed by the government of Rwanda, are making significant strides in enhancing the capacity of environmental journalists. The Rwanda Environmental Journalist organisation positions itself as a leading resource for comprehensive environmental coverage, filling a vital role in this landscape.

3. Do you think the continent as a whole is doing a better job of taking the beat seriously?

We recognise the need for improvement, particularly in communicating about environmental degradation. While numerous initiatives are underway across the continent, the crucial question is whether we are approaching these issues effectively. It appears that policymakers and higher-level leaders are aware of the situation, but this knowledge does not always reach the grassroots level. We believe that empowering the media to translate complex scientific terminology into accessible language is essential in bridging this gap.

4. How have journalists responded to the work that you do?

Environmental journalism is particularly appealing to journalists because it offers a wealth of compelling stories. The key challenge lies in having the capacity to identify these stories and effectively navigate sensitive topics. It also requires the ability to interpret complex scientific findings. Today, the focus is not just on reporting facts, but also on finding solutions, which is why solutions journalism is gaining traction. When we present these aspects, it generates excitement about what lies ahead. While Rwanda may not have had many experts in the environmental field in the past, we are confident that the country will cultivate a significant number of them in the future.

5. What are the pressing environmental issues that the country faces?

Rwanda has made significant strides in implementing policies that prioritise environmental protection, including laws governing forest protection, urban and industrial planning, reforestation, and pollution control. However, the country still grapples with challenges such as flooding, landslides, and industrial emissions, given its status as an emerging nation. Furthermore, also, because Rwanda is not an island, its good doing might be dwarfed by its neighboring countries if they are not ready to embrace environmental protection.

6. What are the challenges that you have encountered as an organisation?

Being a young and innovative organisation, we often encounter funding constraints. Gaining the trust of funders typically takes time for any new organization. Nevertheless, by persisting in our efforts and working within our means, we have begun to attract the attention of significant stakeholders in the field.

7. What have been some of the highlights since inception?

Certainly, we have successfully launched our website, providing a platform for our members to publish stories without concerns about potential skepticism from their respective media outlets. Additionally, securing funding has enabled us to organise up to two capacity-building workshops for our members. Presently, we are in discussions to introduce additional activities aimed at enhancing and expanding the scope of our operations.

8. What do you ultimately hope to achieve?

Over the next five years, our goal is to establish a comprehensive website and a production studio where our members can conduct their work. We’ve recognised that environmental stories, unless sensationalised, often lack priority, leading journalists to abandon them. By providing the necessary facilities for covering, processing, and publishing these stories, we aim to achieve greater impact. Additionally, we intend to establish a training center to keep pace with the evolving media landscape. This center will not only train our members but also all media practitioners. Furthermore, we plan to conduct research to identify areas where we can focus our efforts.

9. How can citizens and journalists get involved in increasing climate coverage?

This is the essence of REJ. We aim to not only bridge the gap between the media and citizens but also to foster stronger connections with the government. We believe that solution journalism can play a pivotal role in achieving this goal. By providing citizens with an unfiltered voice and facilitating mutual learning, we hope to instill confidence in those who feel marginalised. We’ve discovered that local solutions often have a higher likelihood of adoption and success compared to imported solutions.

10. What do you think the media’s role is in making the environment a prominent issue?

Drawing from our experience at REJ, we firmly believe that the media plays a crucial role in informing and educating the public about environmental issues. Additionally, the media should raise awareness, prompt action, amplify the voices of environmental activists, shape public opinion, influence policymakers, foster a sense of global shared responsibility, and highlight innovative solutions to environmental challenges.

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