Award Ceremony Honors China’s Green Journalists

The efforts of China’s most influential environmental journalists were applauded this week at the 3rd annual China Environmental Press Awards. The yearly event is co-organized by British daily The Guardian and environmental NGO ChinaDialogue (中外对话).  A post from ChinaDialogue summarizes the event, and offers a list of this year’s winners and their work:

On April 10, China’s Environmental Press Awards recognised the efforts of more than 20 environmental journalists. Their articles have exposed inconvenient environmental truths throughout the past year: from offshore oil leaks to accidents at chemical plants; from food-safety problems to the destruction of forests.

This is the third year that chinadialogue and The Guardian newspaper have awarded these prizes. The awards have become China’s most important for environmental reporting. This year the Chinese media company Sina was also a partner, with support from the Society of Entrepreneurs & Ecology.[…]

Another post at ChinaDialogue profiles Feng Jie, this year’s “journalist of the year”:

Feng Jie, 30, won her award for three stories written for Southern Weekendcovering offshore oil (the Bohai oil leak series); air pollution in cities (“Testing the air for the motherland”); and urban water shortages (“Water crisis in China’s northern cities: transfer or desalinate”). These touched on some of the key areas involving environmental protection in China: oil, smog and water shortages.For years, China’s city-dwellers have been breathing air that is “healthy by China’s standards, unhealthy by America’s”. While people stay indoors to avoid choking outside, official air quality remains “good”. With the people and officials so out of step, Feng Jie wrote “Testing the air for the motherland”, about environmental NGOs and urban residents buying their own air-testing equipment, taking readings on the streets of Beijing and then posting the results online.

Her report was soon widely available and spurred unofficial testing in a number of cities. Meanwhile, the government, which had long worried that a new standard would undermine earlier achievements, announced that it would include PM2.5 levels in national air-quality standards. The public would know the truth about the air. Feng’s article and other media reports on PM2.5 levels can be seen as China’s people and public opinion bringing about policy change.

ChinaDialogue has been posting the award-winning pieces on their website. Below is an excerpt from the story the took the prize for “best scoop” this year, by Yunnan based journalist Feng Wei. This article brought the contamination of water by illegal disposal of chromium waste into public awareness.

The goats are dead, the pigs are dead and you can’t drink the water.

Residents of Yuezhou township, Qujing city, are in despair: their well water has turned yellow, their livestock are dying and their crops are withering.

For months, chemical waste illegally dumped near the shores of Chachong Reservoir, in this corner of Yunnan province, south-west China, was quietly poisoning the community’s main water supply. Rainwater, contaminated after falling on piles of poisonous chromium tailings, flowed into the 300,000-cubic metre reservoir, turning it toxic. Levels of deadly hexavalent chromium peaked at over 200 times permitted levels.

The local government has said that the crisis is now under control. The water has been made safe, they say, through chemical precipitation and dilution techniques and the treated water – declared “no longer dangerous” by Qujing city’s environmental authorities – is being pumped into the Nanpan River, the source of the Pearl River.

This year’s awards gave special recognition to the  growing importance and success of new-media and citizen journalism in spreading awareness of environmental issues, offering awards to three people who use their microblog accounts to inform the public. Another ChinaDialogue post introduces us to the winner of the newest award category, “best citizen journalist,” 65-year-old Liu Futang:

For many years, Liu piloted a fire-spotter plane in China’s north-east. When later he moved to Hainan, in the south-west, he discovered that the island’s rainforests were “dying a glorious death”. “Glorious,” he said, because the destruction and damage to the environment were often presented as grand achievements.Liu first became a critic of this deforestation during the 1990s: he courageously helped to expose large multinational companies that wrecked Hainan’s forests as they claimed to develop the economy and enrich the locals. But despite his efforts, the impact of deforestation on Hainan’s natural ecology was ruinous.

[…]In his retirement, Liu started a blog about environmental problems. On April 10 last year two reporters persuaded him to start a microblog (on the Sina Weibo platform) under the handle @海南刘福堂 (“Hainan Liu Futang”).[…]

An article from The Guardian has more to say about Feng Jie, Liu Futang, citizen journalism, and how microblogs are working to change the media landscape in China. The article ends with a note of realistic cynicism from a government official:

While many participants cited censorship as the biggest problem facing Chinese journalists, the spread of microblogs has made it far more difficult for the authorities to control the flow of information, which is now coming from so many different and unexpected directions.

“There is more transparency, but it’s not yet at a fundamental level. That is the biggest difficulty in China’s environmental journalism,” said Gong Jing, who picked up an award for revealing how cadmium pollution through the soil is contaminating rice stocks. “A lot of information should be public, but journalists have to work very hard to get it.”

That hard grind is paying dividends. Media analysts and environmental NGOs said journalists, bloggers and civil society groups are opening up new information territory.

[…]Among the 100 or so audience members, fewer than one-fifth believed that China’s environmental problems have peaked, but the majority were optimistic of improvement within the next 10 years.

A more cautious note, was struck by the most senior government participant, Sun Zhen, deputy counsel at the National Development and Reform Commission. “I don’t think we will see the peak that soon,” he said. “The improvements can’t keep pace with the speed of destruction.”

ChinaDialogue has also translated and posted the story about cadmium contaminated rice that won Gong Jing the award for “biggest impact.” Be sure to stay tuned to ChinaDialogue as they continue to release translations of the award winning works.