Journalism and the environment

07. From India to Japan, tackling environmental information can be dangerous /

News reporting is all the more difficult when you are in a country where freedom of expression and press freedom are suppressed. The job of environmental journalists is especially difficult in the Americas and Asia. 66% of registered abuses against environmental reporters have taken place in these two regions.

In India, for instance, where four journalists have been killed. We spare a thought for Shubham Mani Tripathi, a correspondent for the Hindi-language daily Kampu Mail, who died after being shot six times while investigating the ‘sand mafia’. Indian journalist Sandhya Ravishankar was not physically harmed but was subjected to harassment for investigating this issue in the State of Tamil Nadu.

Reporting on the illegal mining of this natural resource is a threat to powerful industrialists. Their livelihoods depend on sand as raw material. As a result, she was subjected to an extremely aggressive smear campaign when she investigated this topic. She told Reporters Without Borders that the harassment orchestrated by the mining companies even led to her being marginalized in her region, including by her fellow journalists.

Intimidation and pressure is commonplace when journalists look too closely into issues that others prefer to cover up. So too is legal action. South Sudan journalist Joseph Oduha, of the Nation Media Group, paid a heavy price. Because of his articles on the human suffering resulting from oil pollution, he was detained and even tortured. The pressure from oil consortiums and the authorities was so bad that he had no choice but to flee his own country.

Although most journalists charged with criminal defamation are acquitted, some end up in prison as a result of trumped-up charges. In Uzbekistan, Solidzhon Abdurakhmanov penned many articles on the impact of the Aral Sea environmental disaster. And spent nine years behind bars as a result.

In Japan, journalists report the existence of self-censorship in the mainstream media on anything to do with the consequences of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. According to them, there is pressure from the government and the nuclear lobby to prevent reporting that could give, and I quote, ‘a negative image of Japan’ or jeopardise preparations for the Olympic Games.

Environmental journalism has become considerably more dangerous than it was in the past. This is tied up with an increasing awareness of the topic’s importance. The general public is far more aware of environmental issues. But so too are governments.  Issues that were once fringe concerns do not fall under the media’s radar now.

A CFI project in partnership with France Médias Monde

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