European Federation of Journalists

New report highlights growing risk for environmental journalism

UNESCO published a report entitled “Press and planet in danger”, showcasing the trends and challenges of the safety of environmental journalists. It shows a spike in attacks over the last five years (2019-2023) with a 42% increase compared to the 2014-2018 period, making the situation more serious than ever. 

The report examines attacks against journalists covering environmental issues over the past fifteen years. The report’s findings are based on the collection of data from 2009 to 2023 and on a survey conducted in March 2024 on 905 respondents in 123 countries with the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

The report highlights key figures on the threats faced by climate journalists and news outlets. With an average of 50 attacks per year, the review found that at least 749 journalists,  groups of journalists and news media outlets have been attacked while covering environmental issues in 89 countries between 2009 and 2023, in all regions in the world. 

The topics covered are mainly environmental protests, mining and land conflicts. At a more local level, the range of topics can differ (logging, deforestation and pollution) as this type of reporting focuses more on the impact on local and regional communities.

According to the report, 353 physical attacks have been reported since 2009, including several types of threats: assault, arbitrary arrest, physical harassment, attempted murder, abduction or property damage. Physical attacks are the most important kind of threat, they have doubled between the two most recent periods studied (from 85 incidents to 183).

The data also reveal that legal attacks are the second most serious threat, with a total of 210 cases registered since 2009. The charges involved public order disruption, terrorism, hate speech, dissemination of fake news and resulted in 39 journalists convicted and jailed for their environmental reporting. Defamation lawsuits are predominantly common in Europe and North America, with at least 63 cases. 

The report underscores that, while 180 attacks remain unidentified, 382 were perpetuated by state actors (police, military  forces, government officials and employees, local authorities) and 207 from private actors (extractive industry companies, criminal groups, protesters and local communities). Those figures reflect a high level of complexity and vulnerability to the profession, as environmental journalism faces pressure from political powers and interference from highly profitable businesses. 

The UNESCO-IFJ joint survey discloses additional challenging aspects such as censorship, gender-based threats and the situation for freelancers. Out of 905 respondent reporters, 70% indicated  they  had  been  subject  to attacks, threats or pressure while covering environmental issues, with a higher level for freelancers. 407 respondents declared to have practiced self-censorship in their environmental reporting activities.

Finally, the journalists said the following measures would improve their safety: training for high-risk reporting, situational awareness, pre-reporting risk assessment, self-defense, and stress management. 

The report recommends the end of impunity from the governments, with more investigations, sanctions and protection. For media employers, the development of training programs and risk assessments is required to prioritise journalists’ safety. The responsibility must be shared to ensure the efficiency of these safety protocols.

“Journalists covering environmental issues face unprecedented challenges that must be met by action and responsibility shared by both governments and media outlets. Trainings are key in this regard. We join UNESCO in calling for the end of impunity for criminal cases involving journalists who are just doing their jobs and fulfilling their role as watchdogs,” said EFJ Secretary General Ricardo Gutiérrez.