Pavel Cincera is building the foundations for environmental awareness and activism in former Soviet countries through independent journalism. By using a nonaligned and recognized issue, such as environmental protection, Pavel has introduced the first independent and objective online portal in the region to raise awareness and activate citizens around the issue of the environment.
The New Idea
In the absence of truly neutral, fact-based environmental journalism in former Soviet countries, Pavel brings into mainstream media the first fact-based online portal focusing on environmental issuesekolist.cz. Pavel recognizes that an environmental movement can only be effective if large numbers of citizens are engaged and involvedand that doing so requires creating an information platform that is objective, credible, and participative.Pavel s web portal provides accurate and real time news about environmental issues. It also provides a discussion platform for readers to share opinions and perspectives as well as an open-source database for users to publish or search for living green advice. Through the experience of interacting with news for the first time, ekolist.cz users go from being passive recipients of news to active users and even generators of news and knowledge. However, the ekolist.cz experience does not stop here. To help users move from participatory online users of news to participatory citizens in society, Pavel has rooted the ekolist.cz community around the shared value of objectivity. From the moment users engage with ekolist.cz, whether they are readers, editors or journalists, they are interacting with unbiased and independent media. Pavel therefore recognizes that an objective, journalistic approach to environmental issues actually serves the ends of environmental advocacy; people are more likely to engage with environmental issues if they understand all sides of the problem.To ensure the objectivity of his web platform, and therefore create a safe space for varying opinions and healthy debate, Pavel develops a strict code of conduct for his editors. He also applies a set of security measures that ensure journalists have the freedom to portray fact-based information. One such measure is a technology that prevents the website from the invasion of search robots sent by other Internet sites. It is the first time that an environmental movement, let alone a citizen sector organization in the region, is applying such commercial IT tools. He also utilizes public opinion applications that allow him to analyze and segment his users, enabling him to reach the most influential groups of citizens.By improving access to Internet-based environmental news, Pavel addresses the broader issue of the role of the Internet as a democratic medium in societies where access to the World Wide Web is limited by the government and by poor technical abilities. By using a nonaligned, concrete and recognized issue, such as environmental protection, and portraying it in an objective manner, ekolist.cz is essentially teaching users how to be aware and active members of democracy. Pavel is now using his journalistic approach to environmentalism to further build the foundations for democracy in other ex-Soviet countries. With his learnings, he has begun to provide technical assistance and knowledge on building partnerships and engaging citizens to citizen organizations in Central Europe as well as in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, in the shadows of the communist regime, independent and reliable media was nonexistent in Central and Eastern Europe; citizens therefore had little reason to trust media. Although the number and subject matter of media sources have since grown, they remain heavily biased towards particular perspectives and opinions representing political or business interests. The public, traumatized with the experiences of a former regime that inhibited free expression, is increasingly concerned with the quality and accuracy of information in the media. Moreover, with the arrival of a digital era, the interest to access fact-based and objective information online in a fast and reliable manner has been increasing. However, mainstream media in Central and Eastern Europe continues to be based on printed magazines and news, instead of interactive and evolving web platforms. There is no single online journal in the Czech Republic that presents truly independent, objective and fact-based news. The result is that citizens do not have the experience of connecting with news, beyond the traditional passive reading of a printed news article.In Poland and the Czech Republic the environmental movement was at the forefront of societal changes in early 1990s. Many of the environmental activists entered politics and took seats as members of parliament in the first free democratic elections. Over the past few years the field of environmental protection and the news generated around the topic have become increasingly popular among the general public, as citizens have become more aware of the destruction of nature that took place during the communistic regime. However, as awareness and interest grow, there is no platform for everyday citizens to gain news and knowledge about the environment and to discuss the issue of environmental protection. This is not only a problem in Poland and the Czech Republic; there are also a number of countries in the region and beyond that continue to struggle with anti-democratic governments and lack of transparent and objective information, particularly concerning environmental protection. There is therefore a need to transfer the experience of some countries, and use the topic of environmental protection, to help environmental movements mobilize and engage citizens living under dictatorships and authoritative regimes.
The first medium to provide fact-based and objective information about environmental protection was a printed bulletin called PECKA, (the seed in Czech), created by Pavel in 1992 and managed under his organization, BEZK (Brontosaurí ekocentrum Zelený klub - Green Club Eco-Centre Brontosaurus). In its early stages, PECKA was an amateur bulletin with specific opinions and perspectives about the best ways to protect the environment. In the mid-1990s, as the Internet started to pave its way through universities and businesses, Pavel recognized the opportunity to professionalize and grow his bulletin. Accordingly, he decided that the PECKA printed bulletin would change its name to Ekolist to emphasize its transformation into a professional and objective medium.Following further advances in technology and an interest to reach a wider audience, in 1997 Pavel launched the Internet site, ekolist.cz, beginning with 2,000 online readers. Ekolist.cz currently reaches 65,000 to 70,000 readers monthly and it is known across multiple segments of society, including businessmen, households, students, environmental activists and many more. It offers online daily news focused on the environment every day there is at least seven to ten news-related postse.g. the announcement of a new energy saving governmental program or news about NASA and CISCO jointly monitoring the climate change. The reader can select out of the eighteen news categories and from thirty geographical locations, both domestic and international.Since the inception of the portal Pavel decided that ekolist.cz will not represent or promote any particular idea or solution. Instead, he promotes it as environmental portal with no specific agenda. For example, the organization is not against or for nuclear power, and if a citizen wants to cut down a tree in the front of their house ekolist.cz will provide information on how to do it legally, but it will not try to convince the person to leave the tree. By maintaining an independent and impartial news portal from the beginning, Pavel has set the standards for fact-based, professional and objective journalism across the Czech Republic and Central Europe. We love nature of course, says Pavel but when writing articles, we strictly follow the code of journalism: a description of the actual situation, its complexity, and various perspectives of the parties engaged. All articles are accompanied with sources of information and Internet links to additional reading and resources for users. Furthermore, ekolist.cz journalists cannot support any particular cause or be engaged in any type of green activism. Next to objectivity, transparency is another important value applied in ekolist.cz. Pavel applies sophisticated IT tools to ensure the quality and honesty of both the journalism and the data collection of the readers. For example, he uses modern technologies to tell whether news is being read by living persons or by search engines of other portals, enabling him to prove the numbers of real (human) readers that access the portal. On a regular basis Pavel is also using external auditing services to evaluate the demographic and interests of the portals readership.Over the years ekolist.cz has evolved into more than just an online news provider. Pavel has added other critical components that actively engage readers in creating the content of the portal and help them to become more sensitive and aware of environmental challenges. Next to the News section there is the Discussion section that provides a platform for online discussion by various experts, whether professionals, citizen sector activists or everyday citizens. Here they can share opinions and exchange points of view on various, often controversial issues. The Discussion section underlines Pavel s belief that environmental issues are complex and therefore the opinions surrounding the debate should be diverse. It is therefore critical to provide a neutral, open and safe platform to share and discuss all available information based on facts and not ideologies. To support the education process Pavel publishes a detailed guide about Czech and European environmental legislation, with specifics on how to access this information. A further feature of the online journal is the Green Householdsection, visited by 60,000 readers per year and updated daily. This section provides free-of-charge consultations for individuals on various issues related to the environment e.g. transportation, pets, cutting trees, gardening, water, health, consumerism, and many more. There is a list of most frequently asked questions that is growing over time. The Green Book-wormserves as an online resource center with reviews of books concerning environmental issues. It therefore supplements the Green Household section by orientating people when conducting their own research and activities. Without promoting any specific products or set of beliefs, this section encourages citizens to take actions that positively influence the environment in their communities. The Green Household section is created in close partnership with the Prague Municipality. The municipalitys website lists ekolist.cz as a reliable source of information, especially in the area of eco-consumerism. The Prague municipality is also linking Pavel with city information centers where BEZK is training center staff to respond to environmental queries from citizens.Pavel is already partnering with other green organizations in other locations in the Czech Republic to replicate the municipality partnership idea at the community level. In the next few years Pavel expects the Discussion platform to become the central place where one can meet all sorts of people exchanging their opinions on the environment. The Green Household section will turn into an online information center supporting the locally operating information centers run by local municipalities. To share his approach and educate others Pavel invites interns to learn from his experience. He is currently cooperating with two schools teaching journalism and digital technologies. Through partnerships with the Higher School of Journalism and of Information Technologies, ekolist.cz hosts ten interns on an annual basis. Pavel and BEZK partner with universities in Prague, Liberec and Brno in the area of internships and international projects. Pavel expects that over the next few years BEZK will host two to three foreign students for internships and at least ten schools will be engaged with twenty to thirty interns annually. Through lived experience, Pavel has witnessed and practiced that democracy can start at the roots of the environmental movement, which becomes a driving force for citizen engagement and activism in ex-Soviet republics. On one hand, the area of the environment is a safe place to practice democratic principles, since it doesn t threaten authorities. On the other hand, environmental activities are focused on concrete actions (e.g. air quality in the cities) that help mobilize citizens in action. Hence, as of 1998 Pavel is running several programs in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan that focus on educating local citizen organizations on the usage of communication and cooperation between various stakeholders rather than confrontation. By using experiential education methodologies Pavel brings together representatives of various sectors (local government, businessman, citizen organizations) and engages them in learning about and discussing environmental challenges in their communities. The environmental issue serves as a way to open the door for cross-sectored dialogue and to join hands in the struggle for democracy. Over the next two years Pavel expects that in each of the fifteen regions in Kazakhstan there will be at least one cross-sector discussion group. In addition to teaching soft interpersonal skills, Pavel offers knowledge on the usage and consequences of modern IT tools and online technologies as a platform for civic engagement. The Kazakhstan program will soon launch the environmental consultancy component of ekolist.cv, Green Household. In contrast to the experience of the Czech Republic, Pavel believes the News section will come later on in Kazakhstan, when citizens are more ready to confront the government openly. Pavel expects that each year, going forward, there will be at least two international projects conducted in Central Asia. In the next few years, with the improvement of access to Internet, online tools will be launched in other countries across Central Asia. Pavel s ambition is that ekolist.cz becomes the green BBC of Europe and a reference point for objective and independent news on environmental protection. To achieve this, Pavel plans that over the next few months the audience of ekolist.cz will grow to 100,000 monthly and in the next years to around 500,000 readers monthly. The three main pillars of the ekolist.cz (News, Discussions, and Green Household) will improve in quality, engaging more people into conversations and addressing current and relevant messages. Furthermore, over the next few years Pavel wants to focus on building both the financial sustainability of ekolist.cz and international activities. He has managed successfully to generate 40% of the organizations budget through profit-making activities. As part of the income generating scheme, ekolist.cz offers long-term consultation and research projects that provide solutions to more complex environmental issues e.g. the status of environmental education outside the schools or the state of eco-consulting services in Czech Republic. Within the income generating activities ekolist.cz also provides technical assistance and offers web advertising as further sources of income for his not-for-profit work, next to grants and donations. He is also exploring opportunities to create joint ventures that will give the organization a chance to grow and reach financial sustainability.
Growing up under a communistic regime has helped Pavel to understand the transformative processes that are still occurring in former Soviet republics. As a child Pavel was influenced by his grandfather who was involved in nature protection in the mountain area of Moravia in the Czech Republic, where he grew up. In his youth years he also visited various countries, such as Syria, Iran and Turkey, where he realized that although they are perceived in Europe as problematic that in fact people can live peacefully together if they respect each other and their environment. The high mountains and High Arctic (Svalbard) areas has shown Pavel that friendship, trust, respect and courage are values which can exist even if opinions and experiences are different.During his university years Pavel became engaged in the opposition movement against the communist government and took part in many anticommunist demonstrations. At that time he created the organization BEZK (Brontosaurí ekocentrum Zelený klub - Green Club Eco-Centre Brontosaurus) to disseminate information about nature and environmental protection. However, Pavel felt that the promotion of environmental ideology was not helping to solve the real issues. He experienced this problem both within the communist regime (through useless environmental projects led by the communist government) as well as in his conversations with colleagues from opposition movements, where he felt stuck in discussions without varying perspectives and points of view. Pavel realized that in order to truly change things various people, with various backgrounds and perspectives, should meet and exchange opinions. Only this will lead to new ideas and their implementation. While working with BEZK, Pavel has been partnering extensively with various organizations on project evaluation, research, training and communication in the field of environmental protection. His work has entailed travelling around Central Asia Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan where he has served the role as environmental expert, trainer and market researcher. Pavel s previous learnings from Central, West and Southeast Asia are now helping him to transfer his media and communications work to countries in these regions.