The best part of conferences is, of course, the socializing. Not just for the free drinks and finger sandwiches (though I certainly appreciate them both), but because you get a chance to have great conversations with fascinating people.
On Tuesday, I attended a networking breakfast for science journalists from developing countries. I sat next to William a journalist in Kampala, Uganda who I caught up with again last night.
William covers environmental issues but, as he put it, environmental issues in Uganda are usually a manifestation of poor governance. So writing about science is a politically charged and, therefore, potentially dangerous endevour.
He pointed to the riots that broke out a few days ago in Kampala when the Ugandan government seemed prepared to allocate vast tracts of the environmentally-sensitive Mabira Forest to the sugar company Scoul. Protestors were concerned that the sugar company would raze the forest in order to plant sugarcane crops. Unfortunately, what started as peaceful protests turned into riots in which several people were killed.
William said the government was probably lining its pockets by handing over a protected forest reserve to a profitable company.
And, as a journalist, he occasionally finds this frustrating because he can’t readily write about such things without putting himself at risk. In fact, William says he tends to self-censor when it comes to writing environmental stories in which the government is implicated because he feels publishing them may very well cause the paper trouble. But that’s not to say he’s resigned himself to silence. Instead, he’s decided to start up a website where he’ll publishing what he wants.
Apparently the web is still off the government’s radar; they don’t really see it as an important form of public dialogue and so William has a window of opportunity to cover stories where politics and the environment intersect. “For a journalist, it’s about speaking the truth,” he told me.
“Sure,” I said, “but what happens when the government eventually realizes you’ve been writing stories that make it look bad?”
William laughed and shrugged. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”