Mexican Environmental Journalists Improve Coverage

Note to our readers:

The Americas Policy Program is pleased to announce the launch of a new series of Citizen Action Profiles on successful grassroots communication projects, supported by the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC). This comprehensive report on environmental reporting in Mexico details the obstacles environmental reporters have faced in bringing to light the severe environmental crises facing the nation and the valiant efforts of a dedicated group of underpaid and under-recognized reporters. Written by long-time Americas contributor Talli Nauman, a pioneer of the movement, it describes not only the problems they face but the strategies they have pursued to achieve important victories.

We are confident that this information will be useful to environmental reporters and movements throughout the hemisphere, as they seek to improve environmental information. Their work constitutes a critical link in the chain between information and citizen action to improve conditions in our communities and save a planet that faces growing threats to its survival.

Please write us ( to give us your opinion on this series and share your own experiences. As Talli asserts in this article, through concerted action, networking to share best practices, and strength in numbers we can make progress even “against the odds.”

Quite some time before humanity”s negative impact on global climate change became a unifying force for environmental justice proponents, Mexican journalists began teaming up to raise awareness about ecological issues. Motivated by the very information they gather, they have sought to share their knowledge about the field of natural resource choices with people whose health and quality of life are affected by it. But they find themselves facing off against the odds. So they have turned to safety in numbers as a way to build momentum for better coverage of sustainable development—from the bottom up.

The history of contemporary Mexican environmental journalism dates back some 15 years. The vocation emerged about 30 years after the beat had become incorporated into neighboring U.S. media. Recognition of the need to cover the environment in Mexico came on the eve of the 21st Century, at around the same time as Mexico”s participation in the directives of the UN Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit. That was also close to the time when the country entered the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the advent of the North American Free Trade Agreement and its environmental side accord, and the creation of Mexico”s first cabinet-level environment ministry. The multilateral apparatus locked the government into international commitments to protect its ecosystems. As it compelled economic and political integration in world affairs, it also helped give rise to Mexican grassroots environmental activism.

Many journalists found the country”s alarming degree of environmental degradation reason enough to take up the keypad, the camera, or the microphone. Now, they had new official sources to report. In addition, they encountered a fount of stories and expert opinion in the growing throngs of advocates for clean air, water, and soil; reproductive health protection; food and energy safety; forestry and biodiversity conservation; gender equity; fair trade; sustainable development; local self-determination; and government, corporate, and financial accountability.

The ranks were addressing a litany of ills: Mexico City had the world”s worst urban air quality. The country had one of the highest rates of deforestation. Two-thirds of the soil was significantly eroded. Desertification loomed large. Less than 35% of municipal sewage was treated. Litter and trash disposal were out of control. Authorities and the public had no reliable figures on available fresh water and forest resources, or on sources and quantities of toxic industrial discharges. Real estate speculation in the wake of ejido (community trust) land privatization was boosting migration, habitat degradation, and threats to endangered species. Banks had no lending practices for local entrepreneurs interested in conservation. Lack of laws, regulations, and enforcement allowed fishing and other wildlife contraband. Bio-prospecting and bio-piracy threatened the country”s indigenous culture and vast diversity of flora and fauna. Past population explosion was still being felt in the form of resource pressures.

Moreover, the model of economic integration and open-door policies of free trade turned Northern border cities and others into doormats absorbing the traffic without compensation for the wear and tear on environmental infrastructure. Easy-come, easy-go privileges granted to multinational investment and consumer goods traders brought invasive species to contaminate the food chain, not the least of which were genetically modified organisms. Fossil fuel and nuclear energy production were polluting air, land, rivers, and seas. Careless and illegal pesticide production, use, and storage were among the many contributors to the compound public health threat. Industrial accidents and natural disasters were having ever more severe effects on public safety.

This provided a wealth of journalistic material. However, most editors and media managers at the time refused to open their eyes, ears, and news space to conservation concerns. So it was that the first independent environmental journalism projects began to take shape. This led to workshops and teach-ins providing mutual self-help to budding environmental journalists and, eventually, to the formation of a national organization, the Mexican Environmental Journalists Network (Red Mexicana de Periodistas Ambientales, Rempa).

Founded in 2004, Rempa is struggling to put down roots firmly enough to reach its goals, which range from “permanent training for journalists on environmental subjects” to “producing materials … that contribute to the advancement and expansion of environmental journalism in Mexico.” Its current and envisioned programs aim to shore up members” needs for professionalizing their beat, and ultimately to inform public opinion about resource pressures. Solidarity from journalists and foundations abroad is an important input at this crucial time in Rempa”s development. Its future success depends on consolidating the many gains made to date.

Against the Odds

Theoretically, environment and sustainability ought to be transversal themes that inform questions behind the stories on every beat. But since the subject area barely has a toehold in the newsroom, like gender or racial equity issues, it requires nurturing in a niche of its own for now.

For environmental journalists trying to establish that toehold, one of the biggest stumbling blocks initially was the lack of communications technology. Cellular phones, personal computers, and internet were only just starting to come into play in Mexico in the 1990s, so chasing interviews and undertaking investigations outside the urban official and corporate sphere was a shell game. That scenario has changed for the better, but a plethora of structural barriers lingers. Today, media outlets for environmental stories are limited and centralized, both politically and geographically, especially in the television industry. Options for environmental and other pioneering journalists remain narrow.

Worsening the access issue for both environmental journalists and their public is the historic lack of open government and corporate responsibility in Mexico. In the early days of environmental journalism, Mexico had no semblance of sunshine laws, which typically require civil servants and public agencies to collect and disclose data, including most records and decisions. Given the legal climate, officials and company spokespersons never developed a custom of answering journalists” calls and e-mails or returning their phone and electronic messages. In a survey of environmental journalists conducted by Mexico City native Susana Guzman at the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, one-fourth of respondents reported no access to public information as being the main problem they face. Ten percent said reliable information is the main problem, and 14% reported the sheer lack of information. Most information, on anything from vital statistics to pollutant registers, is not maintained in easily-tapped electronic databases.

Even gaining access to what little information is functionally categorized remains a thorny problem. Underpaid civil servants expect handsome tips to help researchers find public records. The international financial institutions” grip on the developing economy and its corrupt domestic captains assures that funds are not available to remedy the budget shortfalls behind this.

The 71-year rule of a one-party system, which was unbroken until 2000, created presidential power unchecked by balances in Congress, the Judiciary, and the Fourth Estate. Through it all, this last bastion—aka the communications media—adapted by shunning gate-keeping responsibilities and investigative reporting in favor of following the political agenda set by party-liners through news conferences and back room phone calls. Despite a shift toward less media-government collusion, coverage still is heavily weighted toward pure politics, and agendas are set by the political elites.

Environmental journalists are among the most burdened by the standard garden-variety difficulties any stripe of journalist confronts. For example, low wages and understaffed newsrooms mean heavy workloads that detract from employees” time and ability to delve into issues. About one-third of Guzman”s respondents earned less than $4,000 annually, one-third from $9,000 to $12,000, and one-third from $13,000 to $16,000.

A reporter is expected to be jack of all trades and master of none. Even such important standard beats as education and health receive little coverage; the internationally less conventional environmental beat is non-existent in most Mexican media. Guzman”s research showed that even among the top environmental journalists, 90% were assigned to a variety of beats. Only 7% spent more than 75% of their time on environmental stories. Some 34% spent less than a quarter of their time on them. In contrast, a third of U.S. environmental reporters spend more than 75% of their time on the beat.

Management frequently won”t establish environment sections or even accept proposals for environment stories. Fifteen percent of all respondents to the survey claimed the lack of resources as their main problem. Another 14% said it was the lack of space for their stories. Meanwhile, downsizing creates a cut-throat job security situation, including layoffs of environmental reporters along with the rest. Forthcoming reporters can forget about receiving any hazard pay for walking through mounds of toxic waste or breathing sooty air in the course of researching environmental stories.

Of course the single largest deterrent to practicing any kind of journalism in Mexico is that the country is second only to Iraq as the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Reporters” lives are constantly at risk, regardless of their beat, due to lawlessness mostly related to the drug war. Community radio stations, some of the best disseminators of environmental news, have come under heavy attack. Since they are among the most economically and politically defenseless media, disgruntled authorities have been able to shut them down, and powerful local bosses harass, attack, or kill communicators. Add to that the fact that environmental journalists are threatened by the polluters they expose in their articles with everything from libel suits to jail cells. Then, to make matters even more abysmal, staff members at some major periodicals are forbidden by company policy to take part in professional associations.

In the face of such adversity, it”s a wonder so many brave Mexican reporters maintain their commitment to their vocation and to covering environmental issues. Yet some of the most motivated and altruistic media representatives have dedicated their lives to expanding, improving, and protecting the environmental beat through insisting on coverage, partaking of training opportunities, and networking with others of their ilk.

Obstacles: Against the Odds

  • Communications technology has lagged behind journalists” needs.
  • Media outlets are geographically and politically centralized.
  • The country has no tradition of open government.
  • The concept of corporate accountability has yet to catch on.
  • The Fourth Estate is weak in Mexican politics.
  • News management allows politics to dominate news holes.
  • Little coverage exists of basic beats, e.g., vital statistics, health, education.
  • Editors give short shrift to the environment beat because it”s unconventional.
  • Journalists experience threats from drug traffickers, corporate detractors, and pollution.
  • Armed surprise attacks close community radio stations.
  • Newsroom downsizing mitigates against in-depth coverage.
  • Low pay and heavy workloads require multi-tasking.
  • Company policies deny participation in professional organizations.

Journalists Take Action

Launching from individual project platforms, environmental journalists soon realized they need each other to gain the recognition for their field necessary to be effective in informing constituencies. Alone, none of the projects could have had great impact, but the sum of the parts has amounted to a far greater presence and better quality of news and analysis regarding the environment.

Journalism to Raise Environmental Awareness (Periodismo para Elevar la Conciencia Ecológica, PECE) was the first independent project to pressure for more and better mass media coverage in its area. In 1994, PECE commenced a three-year series called “Environment: Mexico” with support of a MacArthur Fellowship. Founded by veteran photojournalist Miguel Ángel Torres and this writer, PECE aimed to provide investigative reporting and news photography about grassroots sustainable development projects, acknowledging women”s leadership roles in the field. The project soon began publishing major articles on aspects of Mexico”s environment in Spanish and English in the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, United Press International, Women”s Feature Syndicate, and El Financiero, among others.

Besides demonstrating the depth and breadth of environmentalism around the country in its international context, the project presented the public with the positions of those people and other living things that are underserved in run-of-the-mill media coverage. It evolved to become a conduit for foreign environmental journalists to share experiences with members of the domestic press corps in conferences, workshops, training sessions, fellowships, and organization building. Its most recent workshop took place in Mazatlán, Sinaloa, Dec. 10-11, 2007, in collaboration with the local Nutrition and Development Research Center (Centro de Investigación en Alimentación y Desarrollo, CIAD) and the Sinaloa Ecoregion Foundation.

PECE compiled hundreds of feature investigations and other stories over the years, ranging in subject matter from initiatives to stop poachers slaying wild animals to projects for reversing the negative health effects of the global warming gases discharged by fossil-fueled power plants. The major green publishers in the United States and England rejected PECE”s proposed book about citizens” actions for sustainable development, on the grounds best online casino that its focus on Mexican activists didn”t fit into their priority categories. PECE”s staffers, like other environmental journalists, were forced to accept the philosophy inked in the preface written from prison by Goldman Environmental Prize winner Rodolfo Montiel Flores: “If my situation is helping many people wake up and do something to nurture life and future generations, then I consider that I am well paid.”

As an advocacy journalism project, PECE fit like the missing puzzle piece in the broader environmental movement. It became part of the nationwide Union of Environmentalist Groups (Union de Grupos Ambientalistas, Ugam) in the mid-90s. Its status as part of the movement was recognized with invitations to speak to non-governmental organizations from Canada to Chile about grassroots environmentalism, access to environmental information, and the rise of environmental journalism in Mexico. The most recent invitation was to the Fourth Meeting on the Environment, organized by the Border Environmental Health Network (Red Fronteriza de Salud Ambiental, RFSA) in April 2008.

PECE”s articles expanded on and fed into other non-profit publishers” efforts to boost citizens” environmental agendas in multiple media forums, such as those of the International Relations Center”s Americas Program (now a project of the Center for International Policy) and of

The early years of Mexican environmental journalism saw the birth of specialized outlets that still provide some of the few venues for environmental information, such as the award-winning website, which emphasizes ecologically responsible tourism; The Mexico City-based non-profit North American Center for Environmental Communication and Information (CICEANA) also was founded in the early 1990s, to channel government and other international funds to events and projects addressing Mexico”s environment. Planeta and PECE took part in CICEANA”s 1997 Mexico City forum about communicating environmental information, entitled “Future Challenges.” The three organizations also have participated in a number of environmental fairs around the country.

The self-starter projects helped convince mainstream media to establish environmental beats, sections, and entire periodicals dedicated to the subject.

Among the handful of journalists who drove the initial wedge for environmental journalism into the established media was Ivan Restrepo, whose environmental opinion column and supplement Jornada Ecológica appeared on the pages of the national daily La Jornada as far back as 1991. José Luis Guerra created Ecocidio, the first radio program about the environment and ecology, which was aired on Radio RED, the largest news audience station in Mexico. His assistant was Guzman, who went on to direct the environmental programming of Televisa, the largest television station, before completing her graduate thesis on Mexican environmental journalism at Michigan State University in 2004. While there, she set up the first website and listserv (Periodismo Ambiental en Linea, PALnet) for Spanish language environmental journalists, with support from the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, under the direction of Jim Detjen, who in turn is founder of two international environmental journalism professional membership associations, the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) and the International Federation of Environmental Journalists (IFEJ).

Pioneering reporters such as Angelica Enciso, Guillermina Guillen, Lourdes Rudiño, and Ivan Sosa carved out spaces for unprecedented environmental coverage in the main national dailies, including La Jornada, El Universal, and El Financiero. In 1994, when the daily El Norte of Monterrey spawned the national daily Reforma, the latter hatched with a commitment to environmental reporting, regularly assigning reporters to cover environmental issues, and publishing a weekly page on them. Teorema Ambiental, also founded in 1994, was the first glossy magazine on environmental issues in Mexico and continues to publish monthly from the capital city. Originally in English and now in Spanish too, the monthly EcoAmericas newsletter, out of Los Angeles, California, has been addressing Mexico”s environment and development issues along with those of the rest of Latin America since 1998.

By the time Rempa was formed, the independent radio program Planeta Azul had been born. It soon morphed into an internet site with the slogan “Environmental Journalism from Mexico for the World” (Periodismo ambiental desde México para el mundo). The show went off the air but founder Eduardo Viadas went on to accept the position of media officer at the trinational North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), established by NAFTA. This was the first naming of a Mexican media representative to the position and gave reason to hope that the organization would become more effective in its outreach to its Southern NAFTA partner.

The Fund for Communication and Environmental Education (Fondo para la Comunicacion y la Educacion Ambiental, FEA) was among the earliest Mexican philanthropy channels to get involved in shoring up environmental journalism. FEA sponsored a sustainable development reporting fellowship and offered several training sessions.

The International Center for Journalism (ICFJ) Science and Environment Programs helped out by holding environmental journalism training sessions on forestry, sustainable coastal development, and air quality in Uruapan, Michoacan; Chetumal, Quintana Roo; La Paz, Baja California Sur; Hermosillo, Sonora; and Mexico City. This effort linked into several fellowships and contest prizes sponsored by ICFJ and other partners to encourage and inspire environmental journalism.

Rempa originated at a January 2004 ICFJ air quality reporting seminar in Mexico City, in which the agenda included a discussion on the possibility of an ongoing forum for Mexican environmental journalists. Other sponsors of the seminar were the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, at Michigan State University; the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, at the University of Texas-Austin; Periodistas de Investigación, the Mexican affiliate of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE); Ford Foundation”s Environmental Journalism Fellowships, and Mexico City”s Center for Sustainable Transportation.

At the time, about 70 newspaper reporters were practicing environmental journalism in Mexico, according to Guzman”s research. Forty environmental journalists were at the seminar. Sixteen agreed to take part in the experiment. Guzman”s PALnet website and the listserv for it at MSU became the fixatives for the organization. They created a virtual community transcending geographic distances and facilitating information sharing.

Rempa soon received a hand-up from the Society for Environmental Journalists when SEJ sponsored Rempa members to participate in its annual meetings, providing an important venue for professional networking and a model for the new organization. SEJ founders explained to Rempa members how they attracted 1,400 members by using a combination of foundation grants, university sponsorships, media company contributions, income from dues and fees for services (including exhibit, ad space, and single use rental of the mail list/email distribution listserv), and earnings from individual gifts to an endowment fund to sponsor scintillating week-long annual conferences, scores of regional events, unique publications, on-line services, prizes, and newsroom training.

At SEJ”s 2005 meeting in Austin, Texas, SEJ leadership arranged a cross-border strategy and agenda-setting session. Participants expressed the need for Rempa to have an organizational gathering to formalize itself as a non-profit group. Subsequently SEJ developed a work plan that included sponsoring Rempa”s first organizational meeting in Boca del Río, Veracruz, May 26-27, 2007.

The work plan was part of SEJ”s Diversity Program, which concentrates on expanding the organization”s services in Spanish, in accordance with SEJ”s Strategic Plan for 2006-2008. Rempa”s organizational meeting came under the umbrella of the program”s priority Latin America Initiative, which is designed “to strengthen the quality, accuracy, and visibility of environmental news reporting in Spanish-language media in the United States and throughout Latin America.” It envisions “improved relations and new training opportunities for journalists across borders of geography and language, and increased news coverage of environmental issues in areas of concern for Latin American and U.S. Spanish-language journalists and their audiences.”

Internews” Earth Journalism Network (EJN) made the first offer of financial aid to the Rempa collective. Members accepted the money only after they had raised some dues on their own to test whether interest in the organization was generalized. It proved to be, when prospective members paid the equivalent of US$20 as a prerequisite for attending the first national organizational meeting.

At that meeting, three years from Rempa”s founding, participants achieved the goals of electing the group”s first board of directors and approving its statement of objectives. Expert presentations given at the event provided them with sufficient content for breaking stories on coastal development, forestry, nuclear security, and geopolitical cooperation. The parley was followed up by the first board directors” meeting and notarization of non-profit status July 20, 2007, in Leon, Guanajuato.

The Mexican Fund for Nature Conservation (Fondo Mexicano para la Conservación de la Naturaleza, FMCN) donated a substantial part of the budget of Rempa”s first organizational meeting. Besides SEJ, EJN, and FMCN, other sponsors of the first organizational meeting were Veracruz University Tropical Research Center, ICFJ, the Mexican Civil Council for Sustainable Forestry (Consejo Civil Mexicano para la Silvicultura Silvestre, CCMSS), and the Ford Foundation in Mexico.

Ford”s support went far beyond the conference. After receiving PECE”s explanation of the history, status, and needs of Rempa and its partners, the foundation”s Environment and Development Program helped channel money for a year”s worth of activities. They included four news forums around the country on community forestry; plus one workshop in Oaxaca for journalists covering forestry issues; a Rempa audio-visual production on community forestry; increased internet presence on SEJ”s Spanish language website area; and a second national conference, which was held in Aguascalientes May 29-30, 2008.

Attracted by Rempa”s interest in forestry coverage, the non-profit Reforestamos México also chipped in to provide resources for the Oaxaca workshop. The Autonomous University of Aguascalientes partnered with Rempa to host the 2008 national meeting. The National Forestry Commission, a federal intersecretarial body known as Conafor, pitched in to provide a field trip on ecotourism opportunities during that meeting.

The 2008 meeting resulted in a modified slate of officers and renewed vows to achieve the goals set out at the first meeting. Special emphasis was placed on maintaining and promoting communitarian values within the organization, such as sharing resources, joining efforts, showing solidarity, and encouraging tolerance for a diversity of visions. On the other hand, discussion also highlighted the need to develop sources of monetary support for the group and individual environmental journalism. Rempa”s first listserv discussion after the new board took office July 20, 2008, was about improving internal accounting. Its first external action was a letter calling for an end to armed closures of community radio stations.

Inspired by the knowledge that others share their conviction and empowered by the collective contact high, the network”s adherents have gone on to multiply into many more environmental media projects. Freelance reporter Miguel Ángel de Alba, Rempa”s original president, started the first environmental journalism blog, with a focus on climate change. Ismael Rojas set up the first multimedia site dedicated to showing Rempa events. From Sonora, Ernesto Bolado founded a non-profit organization called Sumar to connect environmental activist groups with media representatives.

Environmental media consultant Claudia Gómez Portugal compiled a free daily electronic roundup of environmental articles published in major media for the non-profit Mexican Environmental Law Center (Cemda). Under the editorship of Olga Rosario Avendaño, the Oaxaca-based internet portal made environmental coverage a permanent feature of its news categories. Since the Mexico City daily El Centro published its first issue in 2007, it has recognized the environmental beat, employing reporters Thelma Gómez and Marco Antonio Martínez García, successively.

While about 15% of Mexicans get online casino their news from print media, radio reaches much further including isolated rural areas that receive no newspapers. Local, public, and independent projects have made radio accessible for environmental journalists. Julieta Carabaza and Christian Domenech of the Coahuila Autonomous University Communications School developed an environmental program, broadcast on the college radio and later on commercial stations. Radio Bemba FM 661, a community-supported station in Hermosillo, Sonora includes environment as a principal concern. The radio program “Infosonora” in Hermosillo combines environment and gender perspective in its coverage, largely thanks to Rempa editor and reporter Soyna Daniel. Indigenous community radio has provided important places for environmental coverage, such as the weekly bilingual Pájara Pinta on XEETCH 700 AM “La Voz de los Tres Ríos” broadcast by Mireya Jacobi and others from the Mayo Indian town of Etchojoa, Sonora. In Guadalajara, Jalisco, Jaime Delgado introduced a program about agriculture and environment to Radio Ranchito XEDKT 1340.

During this same period the number of Mexican environmental organizations grew steadily. These groups engendered their own written, audio, and visual materials for distribution in both formal and informal educational settings, as well as increasing contacts with mainstream media. The government also developed a variety of media outreach tools about environment.

What Works

  • Securing domestic and international grants has made independent projects and group efforts successful.
  • Independent and public media projects have increased the amount and quality of coverage.
  • Using internet venues for multimedia productions provides alternatives to centralized conventional media.
  • Utilizing new right-to-know laws promotes development of these tools, and in turn better access to information and more possibility of government accountability and corporate responsibility.
  • Workshops have educated journalists and improved professionalism in the ranks.
  • Formation of a professional organization provides information, publicizes opportunities, increases networking, and gives inspiration.
  • Solidarity from journalists” organizations abroad has been crucial in Rempa”s development.
  • A virtual online electronic community with a website and listserv facilitates resource sharing.
  • Speaking engagements at non-governmental forums and universities help put environmental journalism on the agenda.
  • Letters to authorities and media raise profile of efforts to defend journalists.

Major Institutions Contribute Support and Solidarity

Most environmental journalists would be happy with recognition of their beat, job security, and decent pay. That not being possible, they look to grants, fellowships, and charity to help them organize and amplify the voices of those most often ignored—the voices of nature and its defenders.

The CEC has provided significant support for projects to increase and actively use tools for access to environmental information. The commission engineered trinational accords for creating uniform North American Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTRs) to mandate industry accounting for toxic waste emissions.

Using CEC funding, PECE held three workshops on pollutant registers with environmental NGOs for the general public and media. The funding also helped Mexican environmentalists and journalists bring about legal reform and regulations for eventual full disclosure of hazardous residues disposition similar to that in the United States and Canada. The Mexican PRTR is a key companion to the Mexican version of the Freedom of Information Act, an important achievement of organized civil society in the same lapse and a boon to journalists.

The CEC has supplied environmental journalists with valuable information from its research into issues related to environment and trade. The commission conducts fact-finding missions in response to citizen complaints of member governments” failures to uphold their environmental laws. Internet dissemination of the progress of these investigations and other reports and activities of the organization has made them into devices of significant utility to Mexico”s environmental journalists.

EJN held an environmental journalism workshop in Xalapa, Veracruz, with emphasis on gender equity, and it provided funding for a Mexican journalist to cover the 2007 Bali climate conference.

SEJ granted Rempa individual discount memberships to enjoy its services, including its private website area, its listserv in Spanish, journals, conferences, and mentoring. It offered its Spanish internet pages as a forum for the Mexican group, after the PALnet website lost its funding and continued only as a listserv.

The AVINA program, providing grants for investigative journalism covering sustainable development throughout the Americas, gave Mexican journalists Elizabeth Flores and Ana Maria Ávila Sanchez fellowships in its 2006 competition for their proposals to report on women in Mexican fair trade and on forestry conservation, respectively.

ICFJ and IFEJ joined with Conservation International to provide prizes for biodiversity and sustainable development reporting. Reuters news agency teamed with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to provide incentives with its annual international environmental reporting award, which Guadalajara journalist and Rempa member Agustín del Castillo took for the Latin American region in 2008 with an exposé in Milenio Público daily about foreign real estate speculators causing wildlife extinction.

In an unprecedented effort to examine media”s role in smog prevention, the international Integrated Program on Urban, Regional, and Global Air Pollution invited a panel of journalists to its Sixth Workshop on Mexico City Air Quality held in Mexico City January 20-23, 2003. Rempa founders participated in this early effort to unite journalism with state-of-the-art science on environmental issues. The program”s directors, Nobel Chemistry Prize winner Mario Molina of Mexico City and Luisa T. Molina, conceived the event in acknowledgement of the role journalists can play in mobilizing civil society to protect the environment.

In the face of increasing dangers for journalists, the fledgling Mexican non-profit Center for Journalism and Public Ethics (Cepet) and IRE held a U.S.-Mexico conference drawing 100 journalists to boost cross-border solidarity in 2004. The conference in Nuevo Laredo included a panel on trade in toxics called “Environmental Border Issues: Ideas and Sources.” Designed by IRE member Ingrid Lobet, the conductor of Living on Earth radio program broadcast on National Public Radio, it was conceived to motivate up-and-coming Mexican journalists to do investigative reporting on environmental subjects by presenting them with suggestions, tools, and resources.

Rempa members collaborate with environmental journalists in 15 countries through the 145-member non-profit Caribbean and Latin American Environmental Communication Network (Red de Comunicación Ambiental de América Latina y el Caribe, RedCALC). The Mexican network also established contacts with journalists from overseas at the Bali conference, including members of organizations in China, Vietnam, Thailand, Sudan, Nepal, Myanmar, Africa, and Jamaica. Participants in the conference joined to submit a proposal to the United Nations for funding journalists to cover climate events in Poland and Denmark.

On the domestic front, De Alba accepted opportunities to speak to hundreds of listeners about professionalizing environmental journalism at the University Environmental Program of Mexico”s National Autonomous University (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, UNAM), Guanajuato University, and Coahuila University.

Whither Environmental Journalism?

General Premises:

  • Media constituents need to receive information to raise environmental awareness if they are to change the relations of power that continue to degrade their environments.
  • Issues of environment, sustainable development, democratic participation in decisions, gender equity, fair trade, and local self-determination should be addressed in every beat, not isolated in an environmental beat.
  • Until management and staff understand the importance of the questions addressed on the environmental beat, the beat is necessary to bring them to readers” attention.
  • Advertisers” awareness must be raised to support the environment beat.
  • Media and public access to information must be improved for better understanding of environmental problems.
  • Mexico”s freedom of information act and the general environmental protection law must be strengthened and extended to more state- and local-level application.
  • Enhancing informed public participation in decision making should be the guiding issue in covering sustainable development.
  • Mainstream media need to devote more money, time, and space to these issues.

Funding and Membership:

  • Rempa needs support to provide tools for more investigative reporting.
  • Rempa needs to convince media management to support the professional organization.
  • Rempa should make serious fundraising proposals to foundations and groups with similar interests.
  • Rempa should provide incentives to environmental journalists.


  • Rempa needs to maintain and promote communitarian values within the organization.
  • More members of the listserv should become dues-paying, active Rempa members.


  • Rempa”s board members need to formalize the process of informing members about finances and meeting minutes.
  • Rempa must get its official title documents translated and certified, as well as establishing its tax-deductible status.
  • Rempa must open a bank account.
  • Rempa should ramp up its internet presence.
  • Foundations should support independent environmental journalism projects.
  • International organizations and domestic funders should help strengthen Rempa.
  • Governments need to protect environmental journalists and sources from threats and violence.

The Tasks Ahead

Improving environmental journalism means capturing more funds for educating journalists to inform the public. Editors must be convinced that environmental news is worthwhile. Advertisers must come to the realization that what”s good for the environment is good for business, so they will sponsor coverage. Provisions of the new sunshine laws, particularly the Law on Transparency and Access to Public Information, which is Mexico”s freedom-of-information act, and the General Environmental Equilibrium and Environmental Protection Law (LGEEPA), must be incorporated into state legislation and put to the test repeatedly to strengthen them. Alternative and community journalism, as well as cable and internet options, such as YouTube and blogs, must be exploited to combat the monopoly chokehold limiting environmental coverage in the TV and, to some extent, in the radio industry.

Skeptics of Rempa”s efficacy doubt whether the grassroots professional association can really accomplish such things. They point to the organization”s failure to reach media representatives at mid-level management positions and higher, failure to involve journalists from the most prestigious mainstream media, and a lack of political moxie among participants. Even the most ardent Rempa backers wonder if the double-bind of being overworked and underpaid on the beat doesn”t militate against finding time and money to build the organization”s strength. Since Rempa”s founding meeting in 2004, the number of users of its listserv has blossomed to about 250. But the number of dues-paying members has risen only slightly. For the moment, no funds are in sight to carry on even the most minimal administrative business once the Ford financing runs out in October. A part-time staffer or fundraiser seems out of the question, and volunteer efforts are spotty. The panorama appears bleak.

Some say that Mexican culture lacks the volunteer and leadership ethics necessary to hold the group on course. However, that could be said of other cultures as well, and active members are highly committed. They believe a collective front is the only hope for reaching their objectives. Their networking has taken on a dynamic that is independent of funding. A great esprit décor exists in the lines. The group already has passed the first tests of a new association, having buoyed up its members” individual efforts and having kept its promises to funders. These achievements have set off Rempa from similar Latin American groups that dropped the ball on funders, losing credibility and sinking their efforts in the process. Rempa officers must continue to make its financing and bookkeeping as transparent as possible for members and sponsors in order to avoid any such pitfalls.

On the road ahead, accountability and leadership qualities will be key to the board directors” ability to make progress. More women should be promoted to leadership roles to increase gender equity and organizational efficiency. Before Rempa really can become influential, its officers must declare its exact financial status to membership and raise the money to make Rempa an ongoing project. The board directors need to encourage members” use of a fundraising letter drafted during the previous board”s purview for addressing editors. This will be part of a crucial effort to involve more media management in improving environmental coverage. The board needs to assure that funding proposals are being made not only at work places but also to foundations and organizations. This is fundamental to providing at least the minimum infrastructure for the organization, if only a part-time staffer.

Board members need to put in place incentives for joining the organization and boosting the number of dues submissions, such as writing and photography prizes open only to members. They need to institute creative fundraising methods, such as a speakers” bureau and conferences. Membership drives, especially promoting indigenous involvement, must be carried out to increase participation. Follow-up is important on new and existing initiatives. Pending from 2007 are initiatives for meetings at UNAM, Chapingo Autonomous University, and Chiapas University. Also requiring follow-up are proposals to seek funding from foundations and promising corporate social investors, including sources as disparate as the UN, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Reforestamos México, and Berrendo footwear makers” social responsibility campaign. Partner organizations will continue to play an important role in responding to the needs identified by Rempa and individual project participants.

Economic integration, population growth, pollution, climate change, infrastructure megaprojects, and international financing decisions are having environmental impacts that know no borders and effect constituencies unprepared for them. Appropriate technologies and safe, clean alternatives are available but often unknown due to lack of coverage. Environmental journalists reveal the origin and impact of contamination as it extends across economic and geopolitical boundaries. They have the opportunity to throw into relief the many positive solutions for environmental cleanup that can be applied at local levels.

In doing so, they follow the international counsel of the 1992 Earth Summit: “Think globally; act locally.” They pursue the directive of the 1972 Stockholm UN Conference on the Human Environment stating that it is “essential that mass media … disseminates information of an educational nature on the need to protect and improve the environment.” And they become ever more important contributors to the evolution of the global village in its quest for a brighter, safer future.