BERN reporters engage in Training at Chaa Creek

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 17, No. 32            August 16, 2007

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The BERN group pays a visit to the proposed site for the hydroelectric VACA dam on the Macal River.

Along the road to Chaa Creek, BERN Reporters got an insight on the oil factory (BNE) for educational purposes.

Environmental issues have gone global, often in ways we don’t even recognize. Rapid economic growth in Belize and other parts of the developing world is having a profound impact on the local and global environment, but citizens in many countries including Belize are ill-informed about these critical issues. Public demand for these stories is high. Yet, localizing a big environmental story, finding local contacts and translating conflicting science and statistics can be a very tough assignment. Helping the community and general populace understand how the changing environment has a local impact, is an important and challenging task. With that agenda in mind, the Belize Environmental Reporters Network (BERN) was formed a year ago to get the public informed on the impacts and challenges that are affecting Belize’s environment.

    From August 10th to 12th, through the funding assistance of the Protected Areas Conservation Trust (PACT) and the Oak Foundation, local conservation organizations, experts on environmental reporting and Government agencies met up with journalists from around the country. Journalists received formal education on how to report on these sensitive environmental issues and what are the questions that need to be asked to pertaining environmental entities. Dale Willman, workshop facilitator, stated, “Journalists don’t know all the answers; they need to know how to ask the right questions.”

    The location for this year’s workshop was the picturesque resort of Chaa Creek Lodge in San Ignacio, Cayo where the media team engaged in a three day workshop in which discussions primarily about journalism skills, and developing new tools in writing were dealt with. The project presenters for the workshop were Dr. Robert Thomas, Director for the Center of Environmental Communications, Dale Willman, Executive Editor from Field Notes Production, and Luz Marie Hunter from the Belize Outdoor Adventure Travel Services. Doctor Thomas is a biologist who is the Acting Director of the School of Mass Communications at Loyola University in New Orleans, U-S-A. Presenter, Dale Willman, is a veteran radio reporter, producer, and teacher who won many awards for his work in public radio in the United States.

    Key areas of discussion at the workshop were reporting on oil exploration, garbage and waste disposal, and proper environmental coverage in Belize. The team also engaged in several opportune and informative visits the Belize City dump site and landfill, sites along the Mopan River to see how humans and their urban/agricultural activities impact Belize’s rivers, as well as a visit to the proposed site for the hydroelectric VACA dam on the Macal River.

    Willman continued on the workshop’s purpose, “The training is immense because journalists by nature have to cover so many topics that it’s very difficult to know a lot about any particular topic. But environmental issues are so complex and they’re are many layers to them that without that level of training that we’re hoping to provide here, it’s very difficult to do these in a way that makes them contextual, that makes them understandable enough for people so that they can begin to know what’s happening in the world around them, begin to know what’s happening in the environment.”

    To educate and engage citizens, journalists in November of last year established the Belize Environmental Reporters Network (BERN), a project that aims to improve the quality and quantity of reporting issues impacting our most fragile environment. One could guarantee that environmental coverage in Belize will see an increase from media houses all across the Nation as it is imperative that the public be aware of the challenges and very complex issues that are affecting Belize’s bio-diversity; issues that journalists themselves are not aware of were discussed. “Basically, we [PACT] decided to fund the journalism training so that we can build the media’s capacity, to build the information that they receive pertaining to the various environmental issues so that the can properly disseminate this information to the general populace,”stated Kenrick William, PACT Capacity Building Officer. “To date this is the second environmental journalism workshop held. The first one was at St. George’s Caye with the third one being planned upon.”

    To date, BERN is comprised of journalists from The San Pedro Sun, The Reef Radio, Channel 7 News, Channel 5, Centaur Cable Network, Plus Television, Julian Cho Society, Naturalight Productions, Amandala, Love FM, as well as various free lance journalists.
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