Environmental Reporters are Being Murdered for Exposing the Truth

Over a dozen journalists have been murdered, and countless others have faced violence and harassment for reporting on environmental issues, says a new report.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) tallied these fatalities for the Green Blood project, which says that 13 journalists are confirmed dead as a result of actions taken because they were reporting on sensitive environmental issues. A further 16 deaths are under investigation.

If the tally does reach as high as 29, the Guardian notes, this would make environmental journalism the second most dangerous journalistic practice, just behind war reporting. It’s also worth acknowledging that the number of deaths may be even higher than we currently know because of the sometimes secret nature of journalism obscuring the facts surrounding when journalists do go missing or are killed.

Specifically, journalists’ lives are endangered when they confront or expose political or business corruption relating to things like massive power plant builds or fossil fuel operations.

One example of highly dangerous work the report highlights is journalists investigating the mining industry. Journalists in India are particularly at risk when they take on human rights violations against locals in proposed mining sites. Several journalists’ deaths have been linked to the sand mining industry.

Journalists have also been killed as a result of their environmental investigations in the Philippines, Colombia, Russia and Indonesia.

“Reporting such stories for national and international media often involves traveling to remote communities and confronting powerful interests,” CPJ executive director Joel Simon told The Week. “This makes it inherently dangerous. This is not a new issue, but it has become more acute as climate change has accelerated and environmental change more directly impacts people’s lives. I don’t see that changing any time soon, which is why it is so important to report on environmental issues despite the risk.”

As Simon notes above, the violence and intimidation journalists face as a result of environmental reporting is not new. Estimates suggest that between 2005 and 2016 around 40 reporters were killed during the course of, or as a result of, their environmental reporting.

However, just looking at deaths — as obviously serious as they are — does not give us a true picture of the levels of violence and harassment that environmental journalists endure in the course of their jobs.

The report found evidence of police targeting journalists or raiding their homes. Officials would also offer them bribes and then threaten and intimidate them when they didn’t take the money.

Other nations, for example Liberia, have imprisoned journalists for exposing ministerial corruption. Among the most prominent examples is that of Rodney Sieh who in 2013 was sentenced to 5,000 years in prison – that is not a typo — for exposing a former agriculture minister’s part in a scheme that skimmed funds from a vital health initiative. After an international outcry Sieh was released three months into his sentence, but the very fact that he was imprisoned and fined for “defamation” speaks volumes about just how fraught with danger investigative journalism can be.

At a time when journalistic freedom is being eroded almost everywhere, including in places where it was once considered “safe”, such as Australia and even the United States, the news of just how deadly environmental journalism can be is a sober warning.

We know that many larger nations are failing their climate change commitments and that some regions of places like China are also flouting long-standing international moratoriums on CFCs, among other problems.

Without protection, journalists can’t do their work. Where government or law enforcement bodies actively hound journalists, this isn’t just a sign of institutional failings. It is a sign of active deception: these bodies do not want the public knowing the truth.

Threats against journalists are violence against the very foundations of a healthy democracy where an informed public elects and empowers figureheads to do the work the public cannot do. Attacking journalists conceals the truth, leaving the electorate without a vital tool for holding those in power to account.

This is exacerbated when people like President Donald Trump make personal attacks on the integrity of journalists and release slogans like “fake news”, creating a climate in which supporters attack and intimidate the media. This normalizes the notion that the media is “the enemy”, making environmental and political reporting that much more fraught.

Investigative journalism is one of the key methods by which we the public can hold our leaders accountable on climate change and other environmental concerns. Journalists deserve to be able to do their jobs safely and without impediment — we need the profession now more than ever.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

107 comments

Alea C
Alea C21 hours ago

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Alea C
Alea C21 hours ago

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Lorraine A
Lorraine Ayesterday

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Leo C
Leo Cyesterday

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Alea C
Alea C1 days ago

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Alea C
Alea C1 days ago

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Alea C
Alea C2 days ago

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Alea C
Alea C2 days ago

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Alea C
Alea C3 days ago

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Alea C
Alea C3 days ago

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