Uncovering Environmental Crimes in Tropical Ecosystems: Investigative Journalism and Press Freedom in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America

World Press Freedom 2024 Event, May 4, 2024

Environmental journalists who report on illegal activities like logging, mining, wildlife trafficking, and corruption face significant threats. This reality is highlighted in the upcoming “Covering the Planet” study, the most comprehensive research ever conducted on global environmental journalism. The study, a collaboration between Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and Deakin University, reveals how these journalists – especially Indigenous, local, and independent media workers lacking adequate protections – frequently encounter online harassment, surveillance, corporate intimidation, and increasing state censorship.

An upcoming panel entitled “Uncovering Environmental Crimes in Tropical Ecosystems: Investigative Journalism and Press Freedom in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America,” led by Internews, the Pulitzer Center, and the Earth Journalism Network, will examine the obstacles faced by journalists covering environmental issues like extractive industries, pollution, poaching, deforestation, and climate change. Drawing from field experiences and the “Covering the Planet” findings, panelists will explore strategies for safely conducting in-depth investigations and cross-border collaborations amid rising authoritarianism and shrinking press freedoms.

The complex nature of transnational environmental crimes, their links to illicit activities impacting local communities, and recommendations to counter dis/misinformation, promote accountability, and safeguard public access to information will also be discussed. The panel aims to foster collaborative efforts to support press freedom.

The Panel Will:
  • Discuss the challenges and threats that journalists face when investigating environmental crimes, such as illegal mining, pollution, wildlife trafficking, deforestation, and climate change, based on lessons learned from field work in tropical ecosystems.
  • Discuss strategies to ensure reliable and accurate reporting on transnational environmental crimes, which are increasingly linked to other illicit activities, including drug trafficking. These have been shown to have direct impacts on Indigenous peoples and local communities that live in tropical forests.
  • Reflect on the opportunities that can arise from sharing experiences on reporting on transnational environmental crimes.
Speakers and Moderator Profiles
  • Speaker: Dr Isabelle Schlapfer is Research Manager within the Impact and Learning Team at Internews. Prior to joining Internews, she worked as researcher at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Gender Studies and at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology where she designed and implemented research projects and evaluations in the areas of humanitarian technologies, cash transfers, WASH, and environmental governance; and was managing editor for the Journal of Humanitarian Affairs. Isabelle holds a PhD in Humanitarianism and Conflict Response from the University of Manchester, and a Master’s degree in Political Science and Gender Studies from the University of Bern. 
  • Speaker: Karla Mendes is an award-winning Brazilian journalist working as a Rio de Janeiro-based investigative and feature reporter for Mongabay. Fellow of the Pulitzer Center’s Rainforest Investigations Network. Board Member, 2nd Vice President, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Chair, Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) and fellow of the Oxford Climate Journalism Network.  She has been working as a correspondent for international outlets since 2015, and since 2017, she has specialized in covering environmental and land issues. She worked as a land and property rights correspondent for the Thomson Reuters Foundation from August 2017 to December 2018. She joined Mongabay in July 2019 as a contributing editor. Mendes has a master’s degree in investigative and data journalism from the University of King’s College, Canada, and an MBA in finance from São Paulo’s Fundação Instituto de Administração. She is fluent in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. 
  • Speaker: Sigrid Vásconez is the Project Manager for Conservando Juntos Project (Together for Conservation) at Internews. Sigrid has more than 20 years of experience working with civil society organizations and cooperation agencies in sustainable development and environmental public policies. Her professional focus includes biodiversity conservation, protected areas, and sustainable forest management in her country Ecuador as well as in other countries of the Amazon Basin. She has been engaged in several regional initiatives, especially regarding Amazon issues with extensive work with civil society organizations in Colombia, Ecuador, Perú, Brazil and Bolivia. Currently, research and practitioner interests are in how to strengthen information ecosystems to facilitate biodiversity conservation and climate action. Other fields of interest and experience: gender issues, anti-corruption, and politics. She holds degrees in sociology and environmental biology and a master’s degree in environmental policy.
  • Speaker: Sam Schramski is Editor for Special Projects for the Earth Journalism Network (EJN), where he focuses on collaborative reporting projects, data journalism and online learning efforts. Prior to EJN, he was an adjunct professor, where he taught environmental science, and worked as a freelance journalist and editor. He continues to work as an occasional freelancer and is also a Research Associate at the Center for Social-Ecological Landscapes. His environmental journalism has been featured on NPR, Undark, Mongabay and Deutsche Welle, among others, and he is a former Pulitzer Rainforest Journalism recipient. Sam has worked extensively in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and the USA. In addition to his years in journalism and academia, he was also an executive director of a food security and sustainability nonprofit. He has a Ph.D. in environmental sciences and a B.A. in media studies. He is currently based in New Mexico. 
  • Moderator: Jeanne Bourgault, President, and CEO of Internews. She is an expert on the role of information and media in developing, conflict and post-conflict, and fragile countries, media for democracy, mis- and disinformation, women’s media leadership, information technology, and participatory community development.  Under her leadership, Internews has helped foster independent media sectors in countries such as Jordan and South Sudan and provided lifesaving information to people during crises in Ukraine, Myanmar, and Afghanistan. At COVID-19 pandemic, Jeanne led Internews’ Rapid Response Fund to help local media partners access emergency funding and continue operating in dire economic conditions. She has led the growing sector of humanitarian information, developed strategies to address digital information technology, and centered the information needs of underserved communities throughout its programs. Bourgault has overseen the development of innovative programs, including the Earth Journalism Network, United for News, FilmAid and the Listening Post Collective.