Indonesia is endowed with the world’s third largest tropical forest cover, presenting not only a rich biodiversity and an ecosystem that is crucial to the wellbeing of the planet, but also a source of livelihood for tens of millions of Indonesians.
Managed well, this forest will be a renewable and sustainable resource for national development and prosperity for millions in perpetuity. Balancing development against sustainability, however, is a minefield because the issue is fraught with polarization and emotions that distort the issue.
To be sure, there are serious gaps in the efforts of the government and some forestry players in ensuring sustainability practices in Indonesian forests. These shortcomings, however, are balanced by equal efforts to do the right thing by other stakeholders, including the people living in and around forests, and the nation.
Yet the popular narrative of Indonesian forestry, especially internationally, is predominantly negative. Indonesia and the sector are painted in broad brush strokes as a bunch of callous exploiters and destroyers of the forests for dubious gains.
Much of this narrative is shaped by claims and counter claims that are mostly based on unclear or conflicting data amidst the absence of credible and widely acceptable real-time data and maps.
Contributing to the lop-sided narrative is also the declining quality of the mass media. Pressured by declining revenues many of them are forced to let go of senior journalists in favor of lower-paid ones who often do not have the perspective and depth to cover an issue as complex as forestry. Their need to bolster advertising revenue also lends toward clickbait-ey stories highlighting conflict and fault finding.
The government and forestry companies also inadvertently contribute to the lop sidedness, either because of their reluctance to communicate — either because of trauma from the feeling of being treated unfairly by the media and NGOs, a failure to realize the strategic importance of proactive communications, or an inability to break down internal silos. Conversely some of them communicate profusely through their owned media, but these often lack the credibility that would help balance the narrative.
At The Scribe, that houses Palm Scribe and The Forest Scribe, we believe that a solutions-based approach to journalism that prizes sound and actual data over indignation and opinion, will contribute to a healthier discourse on the future of these sectors.
Solutions-based journalism is, for us not good news journalism where foibles are swept under the carpet. Instead, it is a serious, measured and constructive approach to looking at the issues and challenges facing the Indonesian forestry sector and how best to achieve an outcome that balances sustainability and development needs.