Reporting on FLEGT

How can journalist communicate something so important without drowning audiences in the alphabet soup of FLEGT… VPA… TLAS… JIC… REDD… XYZzzzzz? Explain it like you would to your aunt or uncle. They’re intelligent, but they don’t know anything about FLEGT. And if you don’t approach it just right, they never will.

Be literate in FLEGT jargon, but not fluent. It’s important to understand the vocabulary of FLEGT. But it’s equally important that you use it carefully in your stories. Any story or report with “FLEGT” and “VPA” and “EUTR” in the same paragraph is sure to drive your audience shrieking to the nearest sports or society page or channel. Understand what your sources are telling you. Then translate it into language for human consumption.

The rest of this section contains story ideas, a checklist for reporters and tips on finding experts to interview and photos to illustrate stories. It also includes sources of more information on FLEGT and guidance on staying safe.


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Story ideas and angles

Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) negotiations

This is fascinating stuff, sometimes difficult for media to access, but definitely the terrain of journalists covering diplomacy, trade deals, foreign relations and international processes such as the UN climate change talks. What makes VPA negotiations different is their openness to different stakeholder groups and the public records of negotiating sessions and draft VPA text and annexes.

Customs reform

Yeah, right. Who’s going to mess with those guys? Is that another example of how “soft” environment stories are? But what if custom officials really got paid, got respect? Became active defenders of mother nature – or the national heritage. Kids might want to be like them. Border and customs control is one of the key links in the chain. Ports are photogenic, customs officials are real people who might want to tell their story

Follow the money

Timber is big business but where does all the money go? Does any flow to the forest dependent communities who live in an around logging concessions? What about the taxes and fees companies are meant to pay the government?

Follow the trees

In a well-managed forestry sector it is possible to track timber products right back to the stump in the forest. Try taking this journey, or the one in reverse, following wood from the forest down logging roads to a sawmill, then on to processors and finally a port or domestic market. The loggers, traders, artisans, law enforcers, customs official and communities will all have interesting viewpoints.

Technological innovations

Greenpeace investigators have used Global Positioning System (GPS) trackers to trace timber from illegal logging operations in Brazil. Drones hover over Indonesian fires, charting the sources of the annual haze covering much of Southeast Asia, and monitor conservation areas around the world. From DNA barcodes to devices that identify tree species in seconds, what other technological innovations can your reporting discover? See PROFOR’s guide to low- and high-tech tools.

Greenwashing and/or consumer confidence?

Can a FLEGT licence really give EU importers and consumers confidence that the timber products they buy are legal? Where are the loopholes and who wants to keep them open?

Is the law the problem?

Are there laws that are unjust or unworkable? Do some laws punish poor villagers but not powerful criminals? Do some laws have perverse outcomes, such as promoting deforestation or enabling companies to avoid paying fees? How does or can a VPA resolve these issues? In each law, journalists can find fascinating stories whose casts of characters include loggers, law enforcers, forest communities and civil society organisations. For inspiration see this story on Indonesia.

Vox pops

Voices of the people… “a flegged what?” or “I’m barely making it. What do I care about monkeys and frogs?” Sure. You can find people saying that. But what about different approaches like, “Here’s a picture of a family that has running water because their forest is sustainably managed. Here’s a picture of a kid in a slum because his family’s forest was clearcut. When you buy that bed frame, which forest do you want the wood to come from?”

Dramatising the story

What about a plot for a television series where the protagonists were trying to stop environmental crimes: macho forest cops raiding timber tycoons, lovely customs officials rescuing suitcases of slow loris, geeky national park drone operators exposing illegal logging, charming but ruthless suits nabbing crooked bankers, sexy and intrepid but morally ambiguous journalists with hidden cameras smirking at untouchable politicians sentenced to prison – would you watch that?

Credit: Forestry Commission Ghana

Checklist for reporters

  • Does your story explain the root causes of illegal logging, such as governance challenges, corruption or weak law enforcement?
  • Does your story describe economic, social and environmental consequences of illegal logging? Have you examined who benefits, both directly and indirectly from illegal logging?
  • Does your story include data on the scale of illegal logging? Or figures on the value of timber traded legally or illegally?
  • If your story is about a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), does it explain the benefits and costs of the agreement? Bear in mind the benefits may be economic, social or environmental.
  • Does your story include the views of different stakeholders from government, private sector and civil society? What about communities and indigenous peoples?
  • FLEGT is a process. Does your story indicate what will happen next?
  • Do you have photos, video, and infographics to accompany your story? NGOs and international organisations often have great resources they are willing to share.

Experts to interview

The EU FLEGT Facility’s country pages include contact details of experts from government agencies, civil society groups and private-sector associations.


Photos and graphics

The EU FLEGT Facility has photo galleries for each country that is negotiating or implementing a Voluntary Partnership Agreement. Other good sources of images include the Flickr accounts of PROFOR and CIFOR. Most of these images are available under a Creative Commons licence, though some are not for commercial use. 

Indonesia-EU VPA

Staying safe

Reporting on illegal logging can bring journalists into contact with organised criminals, corrupt law enforcement officers and other dangerous characters. In recent years, several journalists who have reported on illegal logging have been threatened, attacked and even killed. The countries where this has happened include Brazil, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Morocco, the Philippines and Vietnam. For journalists, no story should end that way.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has produced a useful guide to security. It includes sections on reporting on corruption and organised crime, and on sustained risks such as intimidation. If you are reporting from forest areas, be sure to tell people where you are going and make regular contact while you are away.

Cameroons Minister for Forestry and Wildlife speaks to journalists
Credit: Ollivier Girard for CIFOR