06
Sep
10

REUTERS & GUARDIAN (UK) biased reporting threatens Serengeti


An online video news clip, primarily focussed on the phenomenon of massive herds of wildebeest crossing the Mara River, published by the GUARDIAN (UK) on 03 September 2010, and which records REUTERS as its source, shows ‘biased reporting’.

As such, this distorted information threatens the natural life of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, a proclaimed World Heritage Site.

BACKGROUND TO THE STORY:

Aside from being home to various endangered and protected natural life forms, the Serengeti is a fragile eco-system that provides a habitat for about 2 million animals that migrate between the north and south of the park annually, in search of food and water.  This natural phenomenon, which has existed for several hundred thousand years and well precedes human communal development, is regarded as the greatest hoofed-animal migration on the planet.  As such, it is considered a priceless environmental asset.

In order to meet a necessary socio-economic development imperative for its nation’s peoples, who live adjacent to this protected area, the government of Tanzania has announced plans to build a 452 km commercial road that links the economic hub of Arusha, east of the park, with the Lake Victoria regional economic hub, to the west of the park.

In terms of the current plans, 53 kms of this road will traverse the northern region of the Serengeti, thus bisecting the natural migratory routes of these animals.

The World Heritage Centre, a body of UNESCO, and the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), which is considered the ultimate world authority on such matters, have stated officially that they consider this northern road would have a negative environmental impact that would place a “restriction on animal movements and migration routes”, as well having a “direct (bearing on) wildlife mortality”.

In the UNESCO report, dated 01 June 2010, ahead of the World Heritage Committee’s 25 July-03 August meeting in Brasilia, Brazil – Ref. WHC-10/34.COM/7B – it is stated:

“The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that, if built, the North Road could critically impact the property’s Outstanding Universal Value and justify its inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger.”

Socio-economic development experts, with the support of international ecologists and environmentalists, acknowledge a pressing need for commercial road development in this northern region of Tanzania.  There is general consensus (including that of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN) that an alternate route can be found, with a ‘southern’ route option being proposed since this road will traverse an area outside of the park, to its south.

Furthermore, substantial attention has been drawn to the fact that tourism is the largest contributor of foreign earnings to the Tanzanian economy where this key sector sector generates more than US$ 1.5bn in annual GDP and accounts for over 600 000 jobs, directly and indirectly.  It is well argued that any negative impact on the Serengeti environment will greatly diminish Tanzania’s attraction as a renowned eco-tourist destination, thereby creating reduced employment and national revenues in the medium to long-term and this consequence will have a far greater negative impact on the entire nation’s economy when compared to any positive economic outcomes from a regional road infrastructural development that traverses the Serengeti.

Additionally, research has proven that a ‘southern route’ development actually provides wider and more beneficial infrastructural road access to markets for far more people than a ‘northern route’ would do.

THE GUARDIAN ONLINE NEWS CLIP:

The headline to this video clip on their website page is: “New road threatens wildebeest migration”.  In its text introduction to the story, the Guardian states: “The annual wildlife spectacle is under a cloud thanks to plans to construct a road across the Serengeti”.

It can be viewed at:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/video/2010/sep/03/road-threatens-wildebeest-migration

The clip is 1 min 43 secs in duration and deals primarily with this year’s seemingly record numbers of wildebeest crossing the Mara River (that runs between neighbouring Kenya and Tanzania) and includes interviews, plus actual video footage of this natural phenomenon.

Only two people provide audio-commentary, namely a German tourist and the Chief Warden of the Mara Triangle, a joint conservancy area managed by both Kenya and Tanzania.  There is no record of where these interviews took place, nor is there any mention of the nationality of the Warden.

The first 77 seconds of the clip, namely 75% of it, deals specifically with the wildebeest crossing of the Mara River during the current migration season, the frequency of actual activity, the size of the herds and some of the dangers the animals face from crocodiles and hippos.  (37 seconds cover the tourist’s interview and 39 seconds that of the Warden.)

The last 25 seconds of the clip contains personal comments by the Warden relating to the proposed northern Serengeti road and resultant poaching effects.  His words are prefaced by the phrase “I believe that…”  and he goes on to state that he believes that the construction of the road will have no effect on this natural phenomenon and seems to imply that if the Mara River provides no real barrier to animal migration then neither would a road.

REASONS FOR MY CLAIM OF “BIASED REPORTING”:

1.  The major content of this news report is clearly centred around the actual wildebeest herds that cross the Mara River and bears no relation whatsoever to the news headline and its sub-text;

2.  The Warden’s comments, which appear almost incidental to the main content thrust of the video, clearly leave any uninformed viewer with an opinion (by a seemingly authoritative and knowledgeable source) that a northern road construction will have almost no impact whatsoever on the environment of the Serengeti or the wildebeest migration and their future mortality rate.

3.  The journalists and editors involved in producing and publishing this report should have been aware that not only is there an overwhelming body of scientific opinion and evidence which completely refutes the Warden’s statement, but they should also know that this sensitive issue of socio-economic infrastructural development for the country has political implications as well, in the light of Tanzania’s national elections in October.  Accordingly, more informed opinion should have been included in the video report to balance it and thus counter such misinformation.

MY OWN ACTIONS AS A RESULT OF THIS “BIASED REPORTING”:

As an individual who is passionately opposed to this road development for the greater good of our environment and future humanity, I take very strong exception to this ‘biased reporting’.

I fervently believe that both Reuters and the Guardian (UK), through poor journalism, have actually become unwitting partners in fostering human development that will negatively impact on one of the earth’s greatest environmental treasures through the publishing of such misinformation internationally.

Accordingly:

A.  I am publishing my opinions of this report online, via this blog, and will actively seek out other online forums where I can share this record of opinion, in order to present an objective riposte that counters the clear prejudice of this report;

B.  I am framing formal, written objections to this report with the following organizations:

(i)    REUTERS – their stringent corporate criteria requires that “video stories must not be shot, edited or scripted in a way which misleads the viewer or subscriber. We must tell the story accurately and strive to record events exactly as they happen. As neutral observers, we play no part in an event beyond documenting it”;

(ii)   GUARDIAN (UK) – their editorial code states that “A newspaper’s primary office is the gathering of news. At the peril of its soul it must see that the supply is not tainted”;  and

(iii)  The PRESS COMPLAINTS COMMISSION of the UK which enforces a Code of Practice that states in the Editors’ Code, section 1 – Accuracy, that  “The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures;

C.   I am insisting on urgent remedial actions from these 3 parties above, so as to counter the very negative impact that this “tainted” video report has on shaping objective, international opinion, particularly in respect of any potential future damage that may result from infrastructural development in a priceless, pristine environment; and

D.  I am seeking out legal counsel in respect of any potential claims for damage that may arise to this precious eco-system, as a direct and indirect consequence of this perceived endorsement by internationally respected news media publishers that little or no environmental impact will be made on the Serengeti through the construction of a major road traversing the north of this World Heritage Site.

I will add comments that update readers in the days ahead and am more than happy to answer any queries or criticisms regarding my stance in this critical, international matter.

Brian Sandberg.
Durban. South Africa.
06 September 2010.

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4 Responses to “REUTERS & GUARDIAN (UK) biased reporting threatens Serengeti”


  1. September 6, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    I’ve lodged by objections via online tools with both the GUARDIAN (UK) and REUTERS.
    Had ‘auto-responses’ confirming receipts.
    Let’s see where this goes. Meantime the clock ticks and more Guardian viewers are subject to mis-information!

  2. September 7, 2010 at 5:45 am

    Today, The Standard of Kenya published an article “Tanzanian road will kill tourism, Conservation agencies warn”.

    I find it fascinating that the Chief Warden of the Mara Triangle is quoted here as saying that the road ‘would eventually kill tourism in the Serengeti and Mara’…but yet – the REUTERS-GUARDIAN video news clip has him on record as saying that he does not believe that – using my words – the planned road will have much effect the wildebeest migration. Hmmmm??

    http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/news/InsidePage.php?id=2000017785&cid=159&story=Tanzanian+road+will+kill+tourism,+Conservation+agencies+warn

  3. September 7, 2010 at 8:20 am

    THANKS BRIAN FOR YOUR GOOD EFFORTS HERE TO MAKE REUTERS AND THE GAURDIAN MORE RESPONSIBLE AND EVEN HANDED. THE MARA TRIANGLE MANAGEMENT HAS THE INFORMATION NOW. I THINK THAT IT MIGHT SERVE TO HAVE WARDEN LENJIR OF THE MARA TRIANGLE MAKE A STAEMENT. MOST LIKELY THE PROBLEM WAS POOR EDITING. I WILL KEEP YOU INFORMED IF I HEAR ANYTHING MORE, I SUGGEST YOU VISIT THE MARA TRIANGLE FB SITE AND “LIKE ” IT TO GET MORE INFO INCLUDING THE FACT THAT THE MARA TRIANGLE MANAGEMENT PLAN HAS BEEN ACCEPTED.

    FINALLY THANK YOU FOR YOUR HARD WORK TO STOP THIS DAMAGING AND UNEEDED HIGHWAY ACROSS THE NORTHERN SERENGETI
    MR

    • September 7, 2010 at 8:51 am

      Thank you, Mike, and thank you +++ for your absolute drive and personal commitment to such a critical global matter.

      I agree with your opinion entirely in respect of probable “poor editing”. Hence my points about editorial ‘codes of conduct’.

      I will certainly follow your advice to link up to the Mara Triangle’s site and help to widen public knowledge of their standpoint on this issue, and related matters.


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