I spent the whole of last week in London attending a training workshop which proved to be extremely useful. It was arranged by an international NGO that works with media in developing countries called Panos. I, along with journalists from Brazil, Uganda and India, had been invited to participate in a project to link southern journalists to the European media. The idea is for Northern audiences to read about development issues facing Southern countries and to stimulate public debate in the North about these issues.

The orientation at the Panos office in central London was very helpful; we met with media consultants and learnt about how the media works in three European countries: Sweden, Poland and Spain. I had no idea that Spain’s media is mostly state controlled or owned by the political parties! I knew about Panos’ requirements for stories, that they should have a development angle and should include local voices but it was good to learn how to pitch stories to European editors directly. This was followed by a crash course on good quality photography and video. You see, in the developed world, there is an increasing demand for multimedia — stories have to be visual with great pictures. Even slide shows now tell a story instead of just the printed word.

With the widespread use of the internet in the North, newspapers are relying increasingly on their websites for content, and newsprint is slowly decreasing in size. Perhaps one day soon, the printed newspaper will become obsolete in the developed world!

The main objective of the project was, of course, for us to build stronger relationships with various media houses in Europe and that really happened for me when I interned with the Guardian in London for two days. I met with the various editors (environment page, ‘comment is free’ page and even the foreign desk). I learnt how the Guardian works — it is actually owned by a trust that covers its major costs so they are not beholden to any advertisers! Their offices, located behind Kings Cross Station in a plush glass and metal building, were also very impressive. While I was only there for two days, I was really pleased to see two of my stories being published on their website — one on their global development website and the other on their ‘comment is free’ site.

I also got a chance to meet John Vidal, their star environmental reporter who broke so many stories during the Copenhagen summit about plans by developed countries to hijack the slow and laborious United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process. John clearly has sympathy for the developing world when it comes to climate (in)justice, and would mysteriously find secret papers at the photocopying machine revealing for instance, the Danish government’s plan to introduce new text into the negotiations, which would favour the rich countries! He would also ask great questions at the media briefings and press conferences, getting the officials in charge to say more than their usual obscure UN speak.

The big environment debate in the UK is currently about whether nuclear energy, touted as ‘clean energy’ which does not contribute to carbon emissions and therefore climate change, is indeed safe (given what is happening in Japan at the Fukushima reactor at the moment). While some columnists at the Guardian are arguing that the world cannot give up on nuclear energy since it is the only way to cut carbon emissions while providing energy on a large scale (better than coal, they say), John Vidal is arguing that the cost to the environment and people’s health and safety cannot be ignored. His latest piece recalls his reporting of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Russia and the subsequent cover up by agencies who deliberately lowered the numbers of casualties. In his article, entitled ‘Nuclear’s green cheerleaders forget Chernobyl at our peril’ he challenges environmentalists and ‘any of the pundits now downplaying the risks of radiation to talk to the doctors, the scientists, the mothers, children and villagers who have been left with the consequences of a major nuclear accident’.

Of course, in Pakistan this debate is nowhere to be found in our media, as we are so secretive and nationalistic about our nuclear facilities. But the question remains, are we safe in case of a disaster like a major earthquake hitting Chashma or a tsunami sweeping onto Karachi’s coastline where two of these nuclear reactors are located? I think I should find out!

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