UNESCO: 70% of environmental journalists attacked for their work

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Backfilling in Makenke wetland, Mbarara city western Uganda. MBARARA CITY HAS LOST OVER 4,000 HECTARES OF WETLAND TO ENCROACHERS. Credit - Mr. Aaron Ainomugisha (he was attacked for doing stories exposing perpetrators behind the encroachment on wetlands in western Uganda).

A new report published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization-UNESCO on World Press Freedom Day on 3rd May 2024, warns of increasing violence against, and intimidation of journalists reporting on the environment and climate disruption. At least 749 journalists or news media reporting on environmental issues have been attacked in the last 15 years, and online disinformation has surged dramatically in this period.

ALSO READ –  CLIMATE CRISIS: Floods kill 72 in Tanzania, Kenya & Uganda as Heavy Rains Persist

UNESCO is calling for stronger support for environmental journalists and better governance of digital platforms.

“Without reliable scientific information about the ongoing environmental crisis, we can never hope to overcome it. And yet the journalists we rely on to investigate this subject and ensure information is accessible face unacceptably high risks all over the world, and climate-related disinformation is running rampant on social media. On World Press Freedom Day, we must reaffirm our commitment to defending freedom of expression and protecting journalists worldwide,” Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General.

Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General.

At least 749 journalists and news media outlets reporting on environmental issues were targeted with murder, physical violence, detention and arrest, online harassment or legal attacks in the period 2009-2023. More than 300 attacks occurred between 2019-2023 – a 42% increase on the preceding five-year period (2014-2018), the report shockingly reveals.    The problem is global, with attacks taking place in 89 countries in all regions of the world.

WPFD 2024, themed “A Press for the Planet: Journalism in the face of the Environmental Crisis“, highlighted the crucial role of journalism in climate action, emphasizing the importance of press freedom and independent media in promoting climate justice and democracy.

A RISE IN PHYSICAL ATTACKS: At least 44 journalists have been killed while investigating environmental issues over the last 15 years, of which only 5 have resulted in convictions – a shocking impunity rate of almost 90%. But the report found other forms of physical attack were also prevalent, with 353 incidents. It also found attacks had more than doubled in recent years, rising from 85 in 2014-2018 to 183 between 2019-2023.

In a consultation of over 900 environmental journalists from 129 countries carried out by UNESCO in March 2024, 70% reported experiencing attacks, threats or pressure linked to their reporting. Among these, two-in-five subsequently experienced physical violence.

ALSO READ – MBARARA CITY LOSES OVER 4,000 HECTARES OF WETLAND TO ENCROACHERS

The data shows that women journalists report being more exposed than men to online harassment, echoing the trend identified in the UNESCO’s previous report ‘The Chilling: Global trends in online violence against women journalists’.

In addition to physical attacks, a third of journalists surveyed said they had been censored, and almost half (45%) said they self-censored when covering the environment, due to fear of being attacked, having their sources exposed, or due to an awareness that their stories conflicted with the interests of concerned stakeholders.

ALSO READ – Commemorating #WorldPressFreedomDay2024 in Mbarara city, western Uganda https://x.com/WUMECUganda/status/1786393344152596661 https://x.com/WUMECUganda/status/1786393344152596661 

GLOBAL ROADMAP AGAINST CLIMATE DISINFORMATION: One of the key outcomes of the World Press Freedom Day Global Conference will be a UNESCO Global Roadmap against Climate Disinformation, identifying the roles governments, the media, academia and researchers, civil society and digital platforms can play to support and protect environmental journalists and promote the integrity of information on the environment and climate change online.

ALSO READ – IN-DEPTH: HOW WESTERN UGANDA’S SAND MAFIAS ARE CHOKING THE ENVIRONMENT & LOCAL COMMUNITIES

UNESCO’s Director-General will open the Conference alongside Chilean President Gabriel Boric. She will announce the launch of a grants programme to provide legal and technical support to over 500 environmental journalists facing persecution, and new initiatives to promote critical thinking about climate disinformation and to improve the regulation of digital platforms, in line with UNESCO’s Guidelines for the Governance of Digital Platforms, launched in November 2023.

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