It was a dangerous year for journalists across the globe, particularly so for those covering environmental issues.
Environmental reporting is now recognized as “one of the most hazardous beats in journalism,” according to a recent story first published at The Conversation by Eric Freedman, a journalism professor and chair of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University.
Journalists covering the environment often face dangers because they tackle sensitive issues or stories involving influential businesses, criminal activities or high-risk incidents, like land-use conflicts.
Yet many of them receive little protection or aren’t prepared to face the perils. That’s some of the feedback Internews has received from its Earth Journalism Network, and it’s why we’ve introduced more safety and security trainings this year, starting with our own training of trainers workshop in Thailand in March.
During that gathering of trainers, reporters and staff, participants talked about the main threats facing environmental journalists and the ways EJN activities could improve journalism safety.
The challenges they identified include everything from physical attacks or threats, to the hacking of websites and social media accounts as well as lawsuits, tax audits, internet harassment and other forms of intimidation, with freelance journalists and those working in remote regions among the most vulnerable.
Journalists said they thought physical threats were highest for reporters covering illegal fishing or logging stories. Broaching a topic that is not often discussed, many admitted to self-censorship, particularly when reporting on powerful businesses or individuals.
Self-censorship came up again in a survey EJN sent out to its network in late August. Based on answers from 333 EJN members, more than a third of respondents said they have faced threats when reporting and 31 percent said they practice self-censorship. When asked what would help them feel more secure, the majority of respondents said advocacy or campaign work followed by digital security training, which more than 80 percent of respondents said they had never had.
EJN followed up these activities by addressing concerns in the field, with a particular focus on the Philippines, one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, according to the International Federation of Journalists. In doing so, we received support from the Environmental Defenders Fund, and also partnered with another Internews project, Protecting Fundamental Freedoms.
Internews first helped produce a safety training guide for Philippine journalists that provides guidance for reporters covering crime, corruption and disasters; advises them on how to prepare for risky reporting and how to stay safe on assignment; provides tips on dealing with trauma and stress; and offers a brief guide on rights and duties. There are also now guides for Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.
In early November, EJN and the Philippine Network of Environmental Journalists joined with various media organizations in the Philippines and with international organizations to conduct a planning meeting on journalism safety. Although the meeting didn’t focus specifically on environmental reporting, it did move toward creating a roadmap scheduled for release early next year that will help improve the safety and protection of all journalists and safeguard press freedom in the country.
Then, on December 11th, EJN joined with our local partner Vera Files to carry out a Journalists’ Safety Seminar aimed at identifying threats and other vulnerabilities, detecting and avoiding surveillance as well as planning and preparing reporters for safe travel, among other issues tackled there.
Internews’ Protecting Fundamental Freedoms (PFF) project has been working on similar topics in Southeast Asia, and has been helping train some of EJN’s trainers to offer safety instruction through their networks. A five-day training of trainers that included three EJN advisors covered introductory sessions on digital and physical safety practices and training approaches.
PFF has also organized 20 trainings for more than 200 environmental journalists and activists focused on promoting safety skills and threat mitigation taught by graduates of previous trainings, and in June it held a regional conference attended by 44 participants aimed at creating a regional coalition of journalists and eco-defenders who can help share information and protection.
The advisors for all these activities are environmental journalists or activists training their colleagues, and PFF has developed training manuals to help guide future gatherings. The PFF has also worked with environmental activists to improve their advocacy and safety skills so they can more effectively interact with journalists.
Being aware of the threats that journalists face, and in what circumstances and contexts, should allow EJN to craft better responses and devise tools targeted at addressing them. Physical and digital safety were only a couple of the key needs EJN has identified.
Other needs we’ve discussed are the building of networks and communities that can support and help defend targeted journalists, legal aid, education to inform journalists of their rights, cross-border stories that can help expose an environmental issue without endangering local reporters and partnerships with organizations working on journalism security.
In the coming years, EJN hopes to hold additional security trainings and is working to do so in multiple languages.