contributed by Antonio Cianciullo for the Round Table in Tehran
I have been dealing with environmental issues for a long time. I started doing this for the “Repubblica” newspaper (one of the two main papers in Italy) in the early 1980s, including reporting on the ozone and Earth Summit conferences in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. I have also written several books in this area (“Atti contro natura/Acts against nature” in 1992, “Grande caldo/The big heat” in 2004, and “Corsa della green economy/The race to the green economy” in 2009 with Gianni Silvestrini). I also try to put having a direct relationship with nature into practice by going to the mountains often, although less than I would like.
- The rapid increase in attention given to environmental issues in Italy took place in the second part of the 1980s, driven by pollution-causing events which affected the air, water, soil and sea. In 1986, the Ministry of the Environment was created. The law establishing it also set up an information nexus on the state of the environment which every citizen has the right to access. Community Directive No. 313/90, addressing freedom of access to environmental information, has reinforced this right. This 1990 Community Regulation established the European Environment Agency.
- A group of journalists subsequently responded enthusiastically to these developments. At the beginning of the nineties, I contributed to the founding of the AIGA (Associazione Italiana Giornalisti Ambientalisti/the Association of Italian Environmental Journalists) together with Simonetta Lombardo. This group was created within the National Printing Federation (Federazione Nazionale della Stampa) to support journalists specialising in the environmental field. We were convinced that the environment should constitute a separate journalistic category in its own right as with the law and economic sectors, which are usually handled by journalists specialising in those areas.
- But we soon after met with some obstacles. Over the years, AIGA’s work has fallen short because publishers have decided not to focus on developing this environmental specialisation and the number of my colleagues responsible for covering environmental issues has been reduced. In this way, we’ve ended up giving more space to stories on environmental emergencies and less to those on how to solve them.
- In fact, as the 1992 report on the state of the environment states: “Environmental journalism appears to be strongly emergency-oriented. Under this umbrella, the events and issues covered are given a sense of seriousness and urgency. This makes them seem exceptional while at the same time distancing them from their real dimensions.”
- As a consequence of this approach, a rescaling of the information spaces covering the environment occurred at the very moment this area was taking off in terms of interest. Research carried out by RAI on environmental news transmitted between 1986-1990 showed an initial reduction in it during 1990. Over the five-year period, 8,600 environmental reports were broadcast (1.7% of the total news broadcast). This included 36 hours of broadcasting in 1988, 25 in 1989 and 17 in 1990 (less than 1% of total broadcasts). The same trend shows up in research carried out by CEEP (Centro studi di politica economica/Centre for economic policy studies) with a sample of fourteen local newspapers from July 1989 to June 1991. Yet, requests for information was not lacking. In 1993, another survey commissioned by RAI aimed at measuring information requests by users linked to the regional news. This survey showed that ecological problems were the second most requested topic after local news.
- In short, we have on the one hand widespread interest and a strong demand for paying attention to environmental problems that are seen as a priority for health protection (for example, to avoid polluted beaches, eat healthier, and fight pollution). On the other hand, it is difficult to find space in the media for the explosion of facts, issues, and environmental events that are occurring. When they are covered, they are often presented as exceptional or out of context and may be difficult to interpret as a result.
- The situation has partly changed over the past 15 years. This is the case especially for two strongly interrelated reasons. For one thing, the younger generation has changed the map in terms of awareness of environmental issues. They are concerned about their future and have adopted lifestyles less related to owning objects and more related to how they are used (and a sharing economy). The green economy concept has also developed as well which aims to respond to new needs for sustainability in the fields of transport, food, housing, energy and the circular economy.
- All this has brought a new focus on many environmental issues from climate change concerns to organic farming, protecting health from the threats of pollution and policies to reduce traffic. But in the meantime, the relationship between the various media outlets has also changed with the rapid expansion of digital and social media. In this new context, the old problems have not been solved, but there is new energy and new actors. This is creating an opportunity for ramping up the level of environmental information, which is also still open to definition. The landscape is very fluid and the trend is one of continuous growth in the attention being paid to the environmental area.