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Guterres demands better protection for journalists on environment beat

Journalists take a rest after a busy day at the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021.
UN News/Laura Quiñones
Journalists take a rest after a busy day at the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021.

Guterres demands better protection for journalists on environment beat

Culture and Education

Friday marks World Press Freedom Day and UN Secretary-General António Guterres is highlighting an uptick in violence faced by journalists covering environmental issues, which has made the profession increasingly dangerous. 

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The UN chief said journalists and media professionals “have a key role in informing and educating” the public about the world’s current environmental and climate emergency which stands as a threat to future generations.

It is through this work that people can have a greater understanding of environmental factors affecting the world and advocate for change, he said. 

However, based on recent UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reports, journalists, especially environmental journalists, face violent attacks and even death for simply doing their job.  

Dozens of journalists covering illegal mining, logging, poaching and other environmental issues have been killed in recent decades,” Mr. Guterres said. But, “in the vast majority of cases, no one has been held to account.” 

Sounding the alarm

UNESCO’s report analysed the violence environmental journalists face.

The report found that journalists and news outlets reporting on environmental issues dealt with about 750 attacks in the past 15 years, the Secretary-General said.

In an interview with UN News, Guilherme Canela, UNESCO’s chief of freedom of expression and safety of journalists, said the report found that 70 per cent of journalists doing environmental reporting dealt with at least one form of violence, and a quarter of the surveyed reporters dealt with legal attacks. 

Additionally, Mr. Canela said that over the past 50 years, 44 journalists covering environmental stories were killed.

He said it is important to remember that journalists are important observers of conflict zones and that they provide lifesaving information for civilian populations affected by these conflicts.

“UNESCO is sounding the alarm that we need to take care of the protection of those journalists covering environmental issues," he said, "because raising that awareness about what's going on in the environment and holding powerful actors accountable is absolutely essential to face the current environmental challenges that the planet is having.” 

Safety for all journalists 

In a statement for World Press Freedom Day, Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said losing a journalist means losing a human rights defender, and that the world needs “independent, ethical and quality journalism perhaps now more than ever”.

Mr. Türk said journalists – emphasising environmental reporters – need “stronger commitments from their governments and their employers to protect them”, safer work environments and the right to work without attacks.

The Secretary-General also recognised journalists’ “invaluable” work and their efforts to keep the public informed and engaged.

The UN chief called on governments, the private sector and civil societies to recommit to protecting press freedom and the rights of journalists and media professionals globally.

Without press freedom, we won't have any freedom,” he said. “A free press is not a choice, but a necessity.