Internews’ Earth Journalism Network Trains CCTV in Environmental Reporting
(April 9, 2008) With audience ratings that reach as high as 800 million people, China Central Television (CCTV) is one of world’s largest broadcasters. It is also the predominant media organization in a severely environmentally challenged country that has the most people on the planet.
Now CCTV’s reporters and producers will be better able to cover those challenges, thanks to the broadcaster’s first ever environmental workshop, carried out and supported by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network (EJN) in collaboration with Environment News Trust (ENT) in Beijing in March. Led by US trainers currently and formerly based at CNN, 40 Chinese TV journalists engaged in some intense training and fascinating discussion.
“We have had a wonderful experience of getting an overview of current environmental [issues] and various angles of environmental journalism,” said Zhang Xin, Human Resources Management Director at CCTV. “The active response from participants convinces us that the workshop is an effective and fruitful way to enhance the mutual understanding and cooperation between Earth Journalism Network (Internews) and CCTV… We look forward to more exchanges between our two sides in the near future.”
Among the participants were journalists from CCTV Channel 1, CCTV-2 (Economic Affairs), CCTV-9 (International Affairs, in English), CCTV-10 (Science and Education), CCTV-12 (Society and Law), from the TV news magazine World Insight and from GreenSpace, a half-hour primetime program on the environment. Some of the journalists produce news stories on the environment and other issues that are broadcast directly to the Communist Party leadership, and not made available to the public.
Gary Strieker, CNN International’s former chief environmental correspondent who currently produces his own programming at ENT, was the lead trainer for the workshop. He was joined by CNN Executive Producer Peter Dykstra and EJN Executive Director James Fahn.
The CCTV reporters and producers received training on environmental issues such as biodiversity and pollution, along with journalistic training on topics such as the use of sources. Participants learned various techniques to create compelling stories and discussed the elements of good and bad stories. They also explored how to confront the challenge of the Internet to the mass media and how to use it to the advantage of TV journalism.
The most riveting debate focused on the content of the pieces, since they often covered issues that are sensitive on Chinese television. A piece on the Three Gorges Dam, for instance, discussed some of the negative impacts and also featured an interview of anti-dam activist Dai Qing. An extended excerpt from CNN’s Planet in Peril, meanwhile, showed graphic footage of the use of endangered wildlife for traditional medicines and the impact industrial pollution is having on people’s health.
Reaction from the CCTV journalists was mixed. Some were clearly shocked by, for instance, the wanton disregard of environmental health captured by the CNN piece. Others said they had already seen the show, even though it was not aired publicly in China. The Three Gorges Dam story drew criticism that it was too one-sided against the dam, although Strieker commented that he had also been criticized by Western environmentalists who felt the piece was too pro-dam.
The piece also helped reveal some of the preferences of Chinese TV journalists. Several felt that the opinions of an educated urbanite such as Dai Qing carried more weight than the pro-dam views of local people interviewed near the dam. But as one of the Chinese participants noted, “Foreigners may value local views over those of remote experts.”
Some participants also complained that the US-produced stories contained “too much emotion.” They felt it was wrong to link environmental issues to human rights and argued for a more factual, scientific presentation of the issues.
Overall, the journalists were enthusiastic about the training. There was a general consensus that EJN and CCTV should team up again for future workshops, including more targeted trainings. This will take place after the Beijing Summer Olympics.
Internews and EJN are also conducting separate environmental media development activities in China with the support of the International Center for Communications Development on issues such as climate change and environmental health.