Birth of ecological activism in Uzbekistan
Ecological journalism has a relatively recent history in Uzbekistan, but has nonetheless managed to carve itself a noteworthy niche in the national media landscape. It continues to gain momentum as the immediacy and significance of ecological issues facing the country draw public and government attention. Its primary function is to serve as a link between the wider public and various organizations involved in raising public awareness of environmental issues and promoting sustainable use of natural resources and preserving the environment. The field was born in Uzbekistan as a distinct area in the early 1990s. And ecological journalists have increased in their numbers since. Today their output is ever more present in print, TV, radio, and increasingly online media in Uzbekistan.
As a result of budding media interest in the ecological agenda, the first issue of the Uzbek ecological publication Ecological Bulletin was published in 1995. This publication brought together a group of people dedicated to the issues of preserving the environment and communicating related issues to the wider public. A year later, the journal decided to establish the Chinor ENK [platan tree in Uzbek] ecological publishing company to increase its scope and meet steadily growing demand for ecological news and raising public awareness of existing and emerging ecological issues. It has gone from strength to strength since. In the past 17 years, the publication has undergone many changes. Its readership has grown, as has the number and quality of pages, articles and publications. To keep audiences abreast of the latest ecological news and events in Uzbekistan, Chinor ENK has also launched a web portal at www.ekonews.uz. It provides information and news on various subjects, including renewable energy (www.energy.ekonews.uz), waste management (www.waste.uz), and ecological education (www.ekomaktab.uz).
State and foreign aid helps green journalism grow
Today Chinor ENK brings together under the umbrella of ecological journalism various ecological movements and groups, news media and international organizations dealing with the environmental agenda. Since its inception the company has been carrying out various activities, including media training, seminars, workshops, jointly with its partners such as the State Committee for Nature Protection of Uzbekistan, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and more recently the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA). The past two years have been very productive. In 2011 the non-governmental organization Ekomaktab [Eco-school] and Chinor ENK opened an information resource center in cooperation with the OSCE Project Co-ordinator in Uzbekistan. This center aims to help journalists and members of public to find up-to-date scientific, academic and other information materials on environmental matters. This has resulted in increased interest on the part of the media in these issues. Journalists attend workshops and seminars organized by different organizations. For instance, a journalist attended an ICARDA-organized regional travelling workshop on winter wheat evaluation in May 2012. Scientists from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan took part in the workshop held in different regions of Uzbekistan. One of the most recent media training courses for journalists from all regions of Uzbekistan was organized by the OSCE Project Co-ordinator in Uzbekistan, Ekomaktab and the State Committee for Nature Protection in mid-December 2012.
New award as stimulus
As an additional incentive for the growth of ecological journalism in Uzbekistan, annual ecological journalism contests have been organized for the last 10 years. And the year 2011 saw the birth of the Qoplon [leopard in Uzbek] ecological journalism competition, which attracted over 300 writing samples from professional journalists and young ecological writers alike. Together with other foreign and national organizations, ICARDA has been actively involved in Qoplon's organization since 2011. Qoplon-2012 was no exception.
This year's contest was particularly fruitful and full of preparatory activities. The organizers arranged various events, press conferences, media tours, training courses and reviewed the submissions in the lead-up to Qoplon-2012. Submissions by veteran professional journalists along with young ecological reporters were a sign of Qoplon's growing prestige. Over 10 media tours were organized in 2012, which were both longer and more effective compared with the previous year. Furthermore, as part of the preparations for Qoplon-2012, the documentary film ECO-VIEW was screened. In addition to training sessions for journalists at schools in the capital city of Tashkent, a summer school for young ecological journalists was organized.
To ensure the transparency and fairness during this year's selection process, the panel included the winners of Qoplon-2011. Representatives from organizations such as the United Nations Development Program – Global Environment Facility (UNDP-GEF) project in Uzbekistan, the Union of Journalists of Uzbekistan, the State Committee for Nature Protection, EKOSAN and Ekomaktab made up the panel. Dr Ravza Mavlyanova from World Vegetable Centre/ICARDA has been an active member of the selection panel.
Eleven months of the preparations and selection finally culminated in the Qoplon-2012 award ceremony on 14 December 2012. The event, held at Miran International Hotel in Tashkent, was organized by the State Committee for Nature Protection, the OSCE in Uzbekistan, Chinor ENK, EKOSAN and Ekomaktab. The ceremony was also supported by the Tashkent City Committee for Nature Protection, ICARDA and UNDP-GEF. There were eight awards categories such as Veteran Journalist; TV and Radio; Special Reporting Prize; Print Media; Young Journalist; Agro-ecology; Online Journalism; and Special Prize for Environmental Publication. During the ceremony, ICARDA's delegation awarded a special prize in Agro-ecology to a representative of the environmental publishing house Chinor ENK for their dedication to agricultural and ecological issues in Uzbekistan. Promising journalists Mamura Yokubova and Nesibeli Mambetirzaeva won in the Young Journalist category, which was introduced to encourage young people in ecological reporting. The Ecology and Health newspaper won the Environmental Publication nomination for its continued contribution to the coverage of environmental issues. Blogger Shakhnoza Turabekova was awarded a prize in the Online Journalism category for an interesting article on her blog. This ceremony was a fitting finale to all the work done by journalists in 2012.
Outlook for environmental reporting
This and similar events have been contributing to the dissemination of knowledge about environmental issues including more sustainable land and water management practices in the dry areas in Uzbekistan, and an increasing number of journalists are covering these issues in their reports today. Slowly but surely natural resource-saving approaches are rising high on the national media agenda. The number and quality of ecological news reports is on the increase too. Illustrative of this is interest on the part of communities and media outlets in regions, especially rural areas. But to maintain ecological journalism at this rate of development, continued support will be required of government agencies and local non-governmental organizations and funds. It is also important that international aid and development organizations play a role in this process. All this will facilitate the development of strategies and actions to tackle existing and emerging environmental challenges. Ultimately, this will stimulate public involvement in these issues and pave the way for reaching the goals of sustainable use of natural resources, improved environmental protection and better public health and nutrition in Uzbekistan.