APFEJ urges New Delhi to be respectful to media

Asia-Pacific Forum Environmental Journalists (APFEJ), in the backdrop of Indian government’s recent initiative to ban a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) scribe on filming in its tiger reserves, has urged New Delhi to be respectful to the global media outlets respecting the democratic spirit of the country. The Dhaka (Bangladesh)-based environment media forum also appealed to the Indian authority not to think of evoking the British scribe’s visa at any cost.

It may be noted that the controversy erupted after the BBC’s south Asia correspondent Justin Rowlatt prepared a news feature on Assam’s well-known Kaziranga National Park where he claimed that forest guards of the abode of precious one-horned rhinos were indulging in extra judicial killings in the name of conservation.

Rowlatt pointed out that the park, which hosted UK’s Prince William and Katherine in April 2016, witnessed the killing of almost two

people per month under the brutal conservation policy since 2013. The year 2015 witnessed the encounter killings of 23 people in Kaziranga in contrast to 18 rhinos poached by the criminals.

“Innocent villagers, mostly tribal people, have been caught up in the conflict (between the poachers and forest guards) and the problem is mostly because the park rangers are indiscriminate in applying brutal force, and they are given immunity from prosecution,” said the BBC feature.

Rowlatt, who lives with his family in New Delhi, also clarified that despite his initiative, both the environment ministries in New Delhi and Dispur (responsible for the protection of forest and wildlife), the National Tiger Conservation Authority and Assam forest department did not respond to his necessary queries.

Once the BBC aired the item titled ‘Our World: Killing for Conservation’ on 11 February 2017, the government and people of Assam raised serious concern over its content. Various non-government nature &wildlife protection groups came forward scolding the London based news channel for propagating a wrong image to Kaziranga to the international audience.

Encouraged with the development, the Indian authority barred the BBC journalist Rowlatt from filming in any of India’s 50 tiger reserves for five years. Later the Union environment ministry even requested the external affairs ministry to revoke the visas of Rowlatt along with his associates who shot the film.

But it tempted the global tribal people’s rights body Survival International to launch a boycott campaign against the park that attracts over some 150,000 annual visitors including over 11,000 foreign tourists, till the Kaziranga authority retains its shoot-on-sight policy. It has already written to various tour operators in western countries to evade Kaziranga that gives shelter to over 2430 rhinos, 167 Royal Bengal tigers along with other wildlife.

“We appeal to Survival International to lift the boycott call against Kaziranga such that the success achieved by the Indian forest department is not subdued by the controversy,” said a statement issued by APFEJ president Quamrul Islam Chowdhury and secretary NJ Thakuria, adding that Assam forest department should also come out with specific clarification to the BBC news feature.