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Being an environmental journalist is a dangerous profession

This is according to a report published in recent days by the International Journalism Institute. Environmental reporters are exposed to physical and verbal threats, difficulties in accessing information and financial pressure, sometimes while hiding from the eyes of the authorities and even with their encouragement

Threats to environmental journalists. The image was prepared with the help of DALEE artificial intelligence software for illustration purposes. It should not be seen as a scientific picture
Threats to environmental journalists. The image was prepared with the help of DALEE artificial intelligence software for illustration purposes. It should not be seen as a scientific picture

In the 1980s I worked at the local newspaper Haifani Calvo from the Shoken network. In an era when you could count the number of environmental reporters on one hand (even today, this is the case), I managed to stand out and bring scoops to the front page of the newspaper every week, Including about the increasing cancer risk of Haifa residents, in 1987. When the first research done on the subject, In 2022, proved it. Perhaps the fact that for 25 years after the disclosure, no government office bothered to check the obvious shows something about the state's true attitude to the environment.

Turns out I was lucky. At that time I was under pressure from the refinery committees and the electricity company. In one of the cases, the chairman of the electricity company's workers' council Asher Cohen, kicked me out of the interview because I asked who decides in the electricity company, him or the CEO. Later he died in prison after being caught in corruption. The Minister of Energy at the time, Moshe Shachel, also thought he was helping the state (which owned many polluting factories) by trying to convince me that the factories also had positive sides, but there were enough factors that stood by my side, first and foremost my editor, Yossi Bental, and even Amos Shoken, who understood There is a just side here and parties with interests. It is a fact that I continued to do so for years.

It turns out that today the situation is much more dangerous. In recent days (February 2024) a study titled "Environmental and climate journalism under fire"Climate and Environmental Journalism Under Fire". The authors of the article, Barbara Trionfi as the main author and Leopold Selzenstein as a contributing author, are researchers of the Institute Press International (IPI).

The article covers the ongoing challenges and threats faced by environmental and climate journalists around the world. It is based on interviews with about 40 environmental and climate journalists from 21 countries in the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia, and identifies the internal risks that journalists in this field encounter due to the stories they cover. The article also includes recommendations for countries, media organizations, supporters and press support groups.

In the opening remarks, the researchers explain that dealing with the global climate and environmental crisis requires an accurate, independent and accessible press that can inform the public debate, clearly highlight the public interest and protect the main victims of it. Environmental and climate journalists shed light on corrupt practices and illegal activities associated with environmentally harmful businesses and expose the vested interests that support polluting industries. They report on state authorities that tolerate these practices. And they expose, among other things, those who sow disinformation and doubt about the science behind climate change and profit from the resulting polarization. But this vital journalism is in danger.

This report – part of the International Press Institute's (IPI) initiative to protect and strengthen environmental journalism – is the most comprehensive new review of attacks on environmental and climate journalists. The report reveals the alarming extent to which these attacks threaten the freedom of the press and undermine efforts to protect the environment and the climate. The report is the result of interviews with almost 40 environmental and climate journalists in 21 countries in America, Europe, Africa and Asia.

The report identifies inherent risks environmental journalists face because of the stories they cover, examines the specific challenges facing freelancers and local journalists at this pace, and examines how the failure of the rule of law, public sector corruption, and economic pressure create a hostile climate for environmental journalists. The report also examines strategies for dealing with these attacks and the pressures exerted on journalists, including through cooperation, safety measures and legal support structures. It includes recommendations for countries, media and countries, journalistic support networks and donors.

The main findings

  1. Journalists covering environmental and climate stories face serious threats and attacks as a result of their sensitive and important work. This includes physical assaults, arrest and detention, legal harassment, online harassment and hate campaigns, restrictions on freedom of movement and challenges to access to information.
  2.  Certain stories, which vary from region to region, are virtually inaccessible to journalists due to the dangers associated with covering them. This censorship silences vital information in the public interest and endangers the fight to protect the environment and address the climate crisis.
  3. While the level of risk faced by climate/environmental journalists is highly correlated with the overall state of press freedom in the country or region where they operate, environmental journalists face the following additional risk factors:
    • Powerful actors involved in polluting and environmentally damaging activities have huge economic interests and strong political connections.
    • Environmental destruction often occurs in remote locations that are dangerous to access and where the rule of law is weak or non-existent.
    • Local journalists investigating environmental crimes are particularly vulnerable, including to attacks by members of their community who are involved in or benefit from illegal activity. Many environmental journalists are freelancers, so they don't have the layers of protection offered by major news organizations.
    • Journalists covering environmental disasters and the climate crisis are often first responders and face risks they may not be trained or equipped for.
    • The polarization around climate and environmental issues creates enormous hostility towards journalists, who are often accused of taking sides.
  4.  The risks to environmental journalists are increased by cooperation between private companies and organized crime groups, and they increase when state actors work in collaboration with illegal actors.
  5.  Ignoring attacks against environmental journalists is common, which encourages more attacks. When the authorities treat independent journalism with hostility or send a signal that journalists will not be protected, the risk of attacks increases significantly.
  6.  In cases where an attack on a journalist may attract unwanted attention, those wishing to silence the story will target the sources, to prevent them from passing on information.
  7. Conducting risk assessments and adopting safety protocols and safety equipment are essential to reducing risk. However, very few journalists and media organizations are using them, in part because they require a lot of resources, and many of the freelance journalists and small organizations cannot afford them.
  8.  Greater visibility of a journalist or media organization can contribute to limiting attacks. Membership in journalist associations and networks can increase visibility and should be encouraged.
  9.  Legal harassment, including silencing lawsuits (SLAPPs, ) is widespread and contributes to self-censorship and the loss of vital information on climate and environmental issues. States should urgently adopt anti-SLAPP legislation.
  10. Legal support (pro bono or donor-funded) can reduce the risk or impact of vexatious lawsuits, especially for freelance journalists and small media organizations. However, very few journalists have access to this.
  11. Economic pressures - resulting from links between media owners and polluting industries or dependence on government funding - limit the coverage of environmental issues in many countries.
  12. Restrictions on freedom of movement are a serious obstacle for environmental journalists, who sometimes need to travel to remote areas to cover stories about environmental destruction and climate change.
  13. Journalists covering environmental and climate stories sometimes encounter extensive limitations or challenges in accessing data, necessary for accurate and fact-based coverage of environmental issues. Authorities should ensure effective FOI laws and procedures to promote this approach.
  14.  Climate change is a divisive issue, and journalists covering climate and the environment are sometimes caught in the middle of the fray, exposing them to a variety of online attacks and threats. Authorities at all levels need to communicate and demonstrate clear support for environmental and climate journalists.

In their conclusions, the authors of the report write that countries must fulfill their domestic and international obligations to protect and promote the rights of journalists, including environmental journalists. This includes ending attacks on the press, protecting the safety of journalists at risk, and ending the misuse of the legal and administrative systems to retaliate against environmental journalists. According to them, stronger support is needed for the local media, which enjoys greater trust in the community it serves, making the impact of its environmental coverage more relevant, but is particularly vulnerable to attacks and retaliation.

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One response

  1. Section by section goes by and we remember what they did to everyone who didn't run to get vaccinated. Or dared to think otherwise.

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