Press freedom is key to climate solutions

This story is part of “Climate & Democracy”, a series from the Global Journalism Collaboration Cover the climate now.

JOURNALISM CONTINUES TO BE a dangerous profession all over the world, and not just in war zones like Ukraine. In the first quarter of this year, eight Mexican journalists were killed, marking one of the darkest periods for the Mexican press in recent memory. unescoUnited Nations agency dealing with media issues, reported that while the number of journalist casualties in countries affected by armed conflict has decreased in recent years, fatal attacks against journalists covering issues related to corruption, human rights violations, environmental crimes, trafficking and political wrongdoing have increased in a number of other countries.

Such dynamics can and do intersect with coverage of our escalating climate crisis. In December, Sasha Chavkin of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, written about how, in Nicaragua, the killings of environmental activists and the suppression of independent reporting have hampered coverage of environmental concerns. And such a dynamic is not exclusive to Nicaragua; many countries that have seen the most violence against environmentalists in recent years too rank near the bottom of the World Press Freedom Index.

Shooting the messenger is, of course, an age-old phenomenon. These days, however, those who wish to silence journalists have a greater range of options beyond the ball. In addition to arbitrary arrests, detention, torture and threats, journalists around the world can be victims of online abuse, smear campaigns, legal harassment and computer and telephone hacking. My colleagues at Al Jazeera have been the target of each of these bullying tactics, even as we remain committed to doing our job.

As journalists are increasingly criticized, media freedom is also under siege in new ways. Some governments seek to criminalize good journalism by labeling it as espionage or even support for terrorism. Some governments have found indirect ways to restrict free speech under the guise of public health in the midst of covid-19 pandemic.

Such threats jeopardize journalists’ ability to cover the biggest story of our time: the looming climate emergency. Accurate, factual and unbiased reporting – the hallmarks of good journalism – are essential for keeping society informed about the scale of the climate emergency and its solutions. Yet journalism cannot play this crucial civic role if our reporters are killed, our offices bombarded, and our freedom to publish and broadcast violated.

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Journalists play a key role in reporting on the climate breakdown that we as a species both cause and face. The science around climate change and its consequences – a range of alarming phenomena, including storms, floods, heat waves and droughts – is indisputable. Factual reporting and observational stories can help humanity fully understand, recognize and hopefully address the challenges posed by global warming.

the covidThe -19 pandemic has shown the importance of the media playing a leading role in informing the public about a global issue that carries very direct and personal risks for everyone. Yet even the deaths and upheavals from the coronavirus, while truly awful, pale in comparison to the potential consequences of climate change.

As the world experiences the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and climate-related disasters, studies show that climate journalism is also on the rise. The urgency of the climate crisis is growing; as is public interest in history.

The old adage that journalism should “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” seems more apt than ever when it comes to climate history, as these are often the poorest and most marginalized communities. who pay the price for carbon-emitting elites.

Media freedom is an integral part of just, peaceful and inclusive societies. (The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals understand “verified cases of murder, kidnapping, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention and torture of journalists [and] associated media staff” among its list of key indicators.) Such companies – with public access to information from unbiased sources and participatory governance practices – are perhaps the most likely to assume the forefront. keeping climate action required.

Amid all the challenges, journalists’ crucial commitments to accountability and providing verifiable information can be strengthened through collaboration. Journalists and media organizations have shown solidarity when members of the profession face threats and attacks. An attack on a journalist anywhere is an attack on journalism everywhere. Such attacks also constitute an attack on the public’s right to be informed.

Likewise, collaboration in reporting the history of human-caused climate disruption seems a natural victory. This “existential” story is of such global, diverse, and interconnected significance that media organizations will likely benefit by finding ways to transcend traditional barriers of competition and proprietary treatment of content in order to serve the common good. As a global journalistic collaboration Cover the climate now said: “Better news coverage is an essential climate solution.… To preserve a livable planet, humanity must make a rapid and profound change in energy, agricultural and economic practices. This change simply will not happen without informed and engaged citizens.

The mission of journalism is to present facts and informed analysis to let people know what is happening in the world. It is a world in which we as human beings will be challenged to address the harm we are doing to our planet and our own chances of survival. In covering this story, the story of our time, the role of the journalist is more important than ever.

It is essential for all of us that journalism is not silenced, suppressed or sidelined anywhere in the world. The climate emergency instead demands more and stronger coverage, and that journalists are free to provide it.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than it does now? Help us by contact CJR today.

Giles Trendle is Managing Director of Al Jazeera English.

TOP IMAGE: A fire consumes land deforested by cattle ranchers near Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil, Sunday, August 23, 2020. An order directing the military to combat deforestation was originally due to end in June, but it was recently extended by President Jair Bolsonaro until November despite widespread criticism that it makes the problem worse. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

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