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Press Freedom Day 2024: Attacks on Environmental Reporters and News Outlets Up 42% in Past 5 Years,

“On World Press Freedom Day, we must reaffirm our commitment to defending freedom of expression and protecting journalists worldwide,” said UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay.

In a rapidly warming world where accurate climate information has never been more crucial and against a “dramatic” surge in online disinformation, climate reporters and news media outlets are facing unprecedented risks, a new report has found.

Released on World Press Freedom Day, the Press and Planet in danger report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) unveiled that at least 749 journalists or news media reporting on environmental issues were targeted with murder, physical violence, detention and arrest, online harassment, or legal attacks in the past 15 years around the world. 305 of these attacks occurred between 2019 and 2023, representing a 42% increase compared to the previous five-year period.

Between 2009 and 2023, at least 24 reporters survived murder attempts while 44 journalists were killed across 15 different countries, predominantly in the Asia Pacific region (30) and in Latin America and the Caribbean (11). Only five murders resulted in convictions, according to information member states provided to UNESCO’s Observatory of Killed Journalists.

At least half of these attacks have been committed by state actors, the report revealed. The latter filed a total of 93 criminal charges, resulting in the imprisonment of 39 journalists, mostly in the Asia Pacific region. Private actors were behind a quarter of all attacks that took place between 2009 and 2023.

Type of attack to environmental journalists and media  outlets (left) and perpetrators (right).

Type of attack to environmental journalists and media outlets (left) and perpetrators (right). Image: UNESCO (2024).

The report also found that at least 194 of the attacks took place at environmental protests, with police and military forces behind 89 of them.

Environmental Reporting Holds the Key to Solve the Climate Crisis

2023 was the hottest year on record, with global average temperatures 1.47C higher than pre-industrial levels, dangerously close to the Paris Agreement 1.5C threshold. In fact, this is just a continuation of a dangerous trend that shows no sign of slowing down. As the World Meteorological Organization pointed out, each decade since the 1980s has been warmer than the previous one, and the past nine years have been the warmest on record.

In a rapidly warming world where no country is spared from the impacts of a changing climate, environmental reporting has become a key instrument to help raise awareness about the urgency of the crisis, document and give a voice to those most affected by it, and encourage individuals, businesses, and governments to take immediate action to reverse the course before it is too late. And yet, threats targeting climate reporting are dangerously on the rise.

The work of environmental journalists and news outlets often intersects and interferes with highly profitable economic activities, criminal groups, and powerful state and private actors, from illegal miners and poachers to powerful multinationals contributing to pollution and emissions. Known for intimidating, harassing, and even physically harming journalists in an attempt to suppress or stifle the truth, these stakeholders frequently represent a direct threat to reporters’ operations. And the numbers confirm this.

UNESCO found that among the 749 journalists facing attacks in the past 15 years, most of them were covering environmental protests (196), mining (142), land conflicts (115) as well as logging and deforestation (83).

Topics covered by environmental journalists facing attacks in the past 15 years

Topics covered by environmental journalists facing attacks in the past 15 years by region. Image: UNESCO (2024).

The UN agency also carried out a consultation of 905 climate reporters, editors, and people covering other roles in media outlets concerned with environmental reporting across 129 countries. It found that men are more subject to all sorts of attacks, with the exception of digital harassment, and that freelance journalists face higher risk compared to full-time employers at media outlets.

70% of all survey respondents said they had been subject to attacks, mostly phycological threats or pressure (85%), followed by online harassment (60%), physical attacks (41%), and legal actions (24.5%).

Commenting on the findings, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay acknowledged the “unacceptably high risks” faced by environmental journalists over their reporting amid a rise in climate-related disinformation online, especially on social media.

“Without reliable scientific information about the ongoing environmental crisis, we can never hope to overcome it… On World Press Freedom Day, we must reaffirm our commitment to defending freedom of expression and protecting journalists worldwide,” she said.



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