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Reporting on deforestation, pollution is dangerous

Journalists who report on deforestation and pollution are increasingly at risk of violence, imprisonment, or persecution, finds a new report released last week by Reporters Without Borders.

High Risk Subjects: Deforestation and Pollution [PDF] reports on incidents involving journalists and bloggers who expose illegal logging, industrial pollution, and other environmental transgressions in Indonesia, Argentina, El Salvador, Gabon, India, Azerbaijan, China and Morocco. The attacks were linked to corporations, criminal gangs or government officials tied to mining or logging.

“Journalists have no difficulty covering global warming,” states the report. “But investigating the causes of global warming, which include deforestation and industrial pollution, continues to be much more dangerous.”

Colombia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

“The main obstacle to quality independent coverage of these two issues is to be found in the complicity between the private sector (such as companies and involved in logging and mining) and local authorities. Together they use ‘a carrot and a stick’ as one Indonesian journalist put it. In other words, they threaten and buy journalists who try to cover their deplorable practices.”

The report includes detailed investigations into abuses surrounding mining operations in Vietnam and Argentina, where companies and their political supporters have gone after reporters for looking into environmental damages. It highlights incidents in Brazil and Indonesia relating to deforestation, including the recent beating of Ahmadi, a journalist in Aceh, Indonesia, by an Indonesian army officer who objected to an article linking the official to illegal logging.

High Risk Subjects: Deforestation and Pollution notes that energy companies in Africa #8212; including Shell in Gabon #8212; have threatened journalists with libel suits for reporting on pollution, while oil palm plantation developers and loggers in Indonesia sometimes offer financial incentives to newspapers in exchange for pulling critical articles. In Papua New Guinea, the report says that Rimbuan Hijau, a Malaysian logging company long condemned by environmentalists, bought The National, the country’s leading daily newspaper, to avoid negative press coverage.

The report concludes by quoting the Copenhagen Declaration, which was signed at the Copenhagen climate conference last December by dozens of journalists’ organizations.

“The media are needed to gather information and disseminate it to the public. As regards the challenges of climate change, the media help to establish credible, independent diagnoses of the state of our planet. Their analyses play a crucial role in helping decision-makers to adopt policies and rules that will lead to the desired changes.”

The report ends: “Without a free press, consciences will never be aroused and behavior will not change. Without a free press, the most recalcitrant governments and corporations will not be forced to combat global warming.”


Dangers for journalists who expose environmental issues September 19, 2009

The following is the text of report [PDF] released by Reporters Without Borders. It looks at 13 cases of journalists and bloggers who have been killed, physically attacked, jailed, threatened or censored for reporting on the environment, and highlights the need for a free press to tackle ecological challenges.

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