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Environmental journalists censored and assaulted

Journalists under threat from reporting on the environment must be considered in the climate change debate.
Journalists under threat from reporting on the environment must be considered in the climate change debate.

Franck Robichon via EPA

Journalists worldwide risk their lives to report on environmental degradation, according to ARTICLE 19 and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). In the fight against climate change, the media is a watchdog for corrupt governments that obstruct efforts to protect the environment. The media also plays a critical role in engaging the public through stories and research. But journalists who cover illegal logging and the polluting of rivers are increasingly censored, imprisoned, assaulted and at times killed, say RSF and ARTICLE 19 in separate initiatives.

In a call to action initiated by RSF, International Media Support and Internews, six IFEX members joined 20 other media and press freedom groups to urge all governments to provide transparency in access to information and to protect journalists investigating environmental issues and climate change.

Some of the delegates at this week's UN Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen are from countries that do not respect freedom of the press, and environmental reporting is stifled. At a press conference on 11 December, RSF said that if Uzbekistan, Russia, China, Burma and Indonesia "do not respect the right of their media to inform on such crucial issues, how can we expect them to really commit to fight climate change?"

Journalists' work maintains pressure on governments to uphold their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, say the 26 organisations. If journalists are blocked from accessing all the facts on different kinds of pollution, then the public will not change its behaviour nor demand greater accountability from authorities to protect the planet: "Illegal logging will not be revealed, much less halted."

The media provides independent analyses of climate change that can influence decision-makers, like those in Copenhagen, to adopt policies that will lead to real change. Journalists and bloggers are also invaluable in revealing abuses of power and negligence that contribute to global warming.

In a report released on 9 December, ARTICLE 19 argues that without free flow of information and transparency in the development and implementation of strategies used to combat climate change, the response to global warming will be ineffective.

"Across the globe, we have found instances of media reporting on climate change being silenced; scientists being censored; climate change protests repressed; activists investigating environmental disasters intimidated, arrested or even killed. Even the amount, origin and use of climate change funds are shrouded in secrecy," said ARTICLE 19.

The ARTICLE 19 report, "Changing the Climate for Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Information", says the climate change debate has not incorporated freedom of expression and this can be seen in regional responses to climate change. In July 2009, French journalist Cyril Payen was arrested for investigating illegal logging by a leading Indonesian industrial group in Sumatra. In Brazil, Vilmar Berna, the editor of the Niterói-based environmentalist daily "Jornal do Meio Ambiente", which reports on clandestine overfishing and dangers faced by protected marine life in Rio de Janeiro Bay, has received numerous threats since May 2006.

The report includes 34 recommendations addressed to states, the media and civil society, including: proactive disclosure and updates of high quality information on climate change; strengthening the legal framework for protection of information and expression rights; and transparent systems of accountability at the national and international level.

The World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC), which is broadcasting live from Copenhagen, calls for greater access to information and for community radio to increase awareness of environmental dangers. In a declaration, AMARC says it commits to "Protect and exercise the right to freedom of opinion, expression, association and dissent to rethink new, more just, more equitable and more sustainable models of development."

During demonstrations in Copenhagen on 13 December, an independent radio journalist was assaulted and arrested, reports the German Association of Free Radio (BFR). The young journalist and her colleague, working for BFR, were arrested while trying to capture footage of a demonstration.

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