Margita Boström is a visiting news reporter for Swedish Radio, Sweden’s national publicly funded radio broadcaster, producing stories about climate change in the Maldives.
JJ Robinson: Given its remoteness, why do you think international media is so interested in the Maldives?
Margita Boström: The Maldives drew [the media’s] attention to what is going on here when it held the underwater cabinet meeting, and through the President’s comments saying he was going to buy land in other countries.
But that was 2-3 years ago. The climate issue is now coming up again, in Europe. It very much went down after Copenhagen because everyone was fed up with it, and then there was the economic crisis, which is still going on. That’s the biggest news item at the moment: is the euro going to continue? Sweden is not in the euro, so we’re fairly happy about that right now.
Then there is the upcoming meeting in Durban. [Journalists] are looking at what kind of countries can you report on to describe what happening in an easy way.
People in Sweden know the Maldives – we are a travelling people, especially in winter time. It easy for people to connect to the Maldives because they have a picture in their heads of these beautiful islands.
I have been working in Bangladesh on similar stories, but for people back the perception is just of people starving on the streets.
JJ: How has the perception you had of the Maldives as a reporter prior to coming been matched by the reality when you arrived here?
MB: I also had perception of the Maldives as small islands with crystal white beaches and blue lagoons. But coming to Male’ was totally different. It is not like an Asian country – maybe a little like Singapore. When I first arrived on the ferry, it seemed like a mini-Manhattan in the middle of nowhere.
JJ: How hard was it to find information about the real Maldives, as opposed to the resort side, when you were researching the country?
MB: Very hard. The only thing you find when you put ‘Maldives’ into google are the resorts and companies selling trips here. You have to put in more words to get close to anything else. I put ‘Maldives’ and ‘environment’, and then after a while I found the Bluepeace [local environment NGO] website.
But their website is not up to date, and I sent a message but didn’t get an answer. There was no telehpnhone number on the whole web page, and I went through it very thoroughly..
It was really hard to find information on the Maldives. I was quite frustrated when I first came here. Usually I come to a place and just start working – it is easy to get into. But here the stretch at the start was longer here because I couldn’t find any information beforehand.
JJ: What kind of impact do you think this lack of information has on the international coverage the Maldives?
MB: I think it is hard for people to understand the scale of the problem. People don’t understand climate change is very difficult for Maldivians, and that they depend on the rest of the world being aware of what’s going on. [The lack of information] means the Maldives loses opportunities to get the world focused on the problem.
When I in Bangladesh it was very easy to find NGOs and people in government – it was very easy to get in contact with people.
JJ: How did this lack of information affect your work as a journalist?
MB: It has been getting better [during the trip], but the stretch at the start was longer. I am glad I didn’t just stay 5-6 days. I stayed a bit longer. It is hard to get in contact with people, but when you do it is very easy to get interviews – Bluepeace has been very helpful now, but I couldn’t contact them before I got here.
Working out who are you going to talk to, and how contact them, that is hard. It seems like only a few people know how. Normally you can set up interviews beforehand, so it has been very frustrating.
JJ: How has seeing the Maldives first-hand affected the stories you thought you were going to produce?
MB: I thought I was going to do stories about sea level rise and the President buying land in Sri Lanka, but I see now it is a more complex story. I didn’t really understand why the President was saying he wanted to make Maldives carbon neutral.
Now I understand that was a way of showing up the rest of the world. It will be hard for other countries to say “carbon neutral doesn’t work”, when the Maldives can come to climate meetings in 15-20 years and say “We did it.” It will be hard for the US or China. [The Maldives’ emphasis on climate change] is political way of [fighting climate change].
JJ: What can the Maldives do to encourage more foreign journalists to come and look at the stories behind the resorts and the obvious environmental pieces?
MB: One idea is to make it easier to find information on the internet. Maybe there should be a government page with information on which person deals with different things, telephone numbers and emails, so they can be contacted. It is very hard [for foreign media] because it is quite an expensive trip to come here, and you really need to know beforehand that you can make stories.
I also found it very hard to understand how the country can be so hard to travel around when it is 99 percent water. How can you travel around? You can’t find that information either. I found two airports, in the north and the south, but nothing on how to fly there, or boats you can go on, the cost of it, or a contact to find out. These are practical things – there should be a portal for information.