Neha Sethi, Reporting on the Environment in India

Neha Sethi has just been named the Earth Journalism Scholar for 2015. Earth Journalism Scholars attend the UC Berkeley (UCB) Graduate School of Journalism in the spring semester, through a partnership between Internews’ Earth Journalism Network (EJN) and UCB. Courses include the graduate-level Earth Journalism course on international environmental reporting, co-taught by EJN Executive Director James Fahn. Sethi was selected from more than 80 applicants in a competitive application process.

Neha Sethi, Earth Journalism Scholar for 2015.

Neha Sethi, Earth Journalism Scholar for 2015.

Sethi is a principal correspondent for ET Now, the Economic Times News Network in Noida, India. She has previously been a reporter and editor for the Hindustan Times, Voice of America and Governance Now, reporting on environmental, gender and political issues. In 2009, Sethi produced a documentary on the effects of climate change on the Himalayas.

How did you become interested in the environment and what motivated you to focus on environmental reporting?

I had a module in environmental reporting during my masters course in journalism and that is what got me excited. So when I started my career as a journalist, my first preference was to cover issues related to the environment and luckily I got the opportunity to do so at my very first job.

Once I started reporting on environmental issues, my interest in it started growing. In a diverse country like India, adapting to climate change is a necessity. India as a country has a varied geographical terrain. It needs to ensure that people living in the Himalayas are safe from earthquakes, floods and landslides, and the population living near the coast needs to be protected from cyclones and tsunamis. At the same time, the country needs to ensure that the less privileged do not suffer and are provided the basic services, including electricity and water. These unique narratives are exciting for me and understanding these challenges pushes me to understand environmental issues better.

What is one of the most important things you’ve learned from your investigative reporting on the environment?

The one most important thing I have learnt is that you are never satisfied with the amount of information you collect and always keep looking for more. While reporting on environmental issues, it is also very important to keep your sources confidential as sometimes your stories on illegal mining operations, for example, can lead to disastrous consequences for the people who are trying to help you.

What do you think of the state of environmental reporting in India? And what, in your opinion, are the most pressing environmental issues in India?

Environmental reporting is increasing in India but there are only a handful of dedicated full-time environmental journalists in the country. The quality of environmental journalism has also improved and a lot of the reporters are trying to look at environmental stories from an international viewpoint and not just focus on the local scenario.

India is a developing country and environment is not an issue which can be looked at in isolation. It has to be woven into the development narrative of the country. Reporting on environment issues in India involves understanding the everyday struggles of the underprivileged to fetch water from far off places, and knowing that there are forest dwellers in the country who still depend on the forests for their livelihood.

The most pressing environmental issue is to ensure there is a fine balance between financial growth and environmental conservation. Also to adapt and mitigate the changes in the climate while not compromising on ensuring access to basic human needs.

What does this opportunity to be an EJN scholar mean to you and what do you hope to accomplish during your year in Berkeley?

I have been covering environmental issues for almost five years now, and this program will be an opportunity for me to further specialize and learn more about the global scenario. It is exciting for me as a journalist from India where environmental journalism is not a specialized course of study yet. I have learnt most of environmental reporting while working as a reporter in the field and serving as an Earth Journalism Scholar will help me to understand the nuances of environmental reporting.

India is still a developing country and is at a stage where it needs to know how to strike the right balance between ecological conservation and economic development. Environmental issues deserve the right attention at this stage.

My time at Berkeley will be a wonderful opportunity for me to meet some of the brightest minds in the field of environmental and science journalism. It will also be an opportunity to interact with people from different countries and backgrounds and to understand their narratives of environmental conservation.

Banner photo: Fetching water at Sundarban National Park in West Bengal, India (credit: Judith/CC)