Doesn’t look like great times to be an environment journalist in India.
More than 3000 environment journalists from across the world have spent sleepless nights over the last 10 days to cover the Paris climate talks (or the 21st Conference of Parties — COP21) concluding today. However, excesses of a different kind threaten their peers elsewhere, according to a new report released by Paris-based body Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF or Reporter Without Borders).
India has emerged as the deadliest country for environment journalists, according to a global investigation by RSF, with at least two inquisitive reporters in the Asian nation being murdered in 2015 and many others harassed, threatened and subjected to physical violence. Closely following is Cambodia, where one reporter was killed in 2014.
Jagendra Singh, a freelancer for Hindi-language papers for more than 15 years, died from burn injuries in Uttar Pradesh state after he posted an article on Facebook accusing a government minister of involvement in illegal mining and land seizures. Sandeep Kothari, another Hindi language reporter, was found dead in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh. Police said local organized crime members had pressured him to stop investigating illegal mining.
Ten environment reporters have been murdered since 2010, according to RSF’s tally. In the past five years, almost all (90 percent) of the murders of environmental journalists have been in South Asia (India) and Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Philippines and Indonesia.) The one exception is Russia. Mikhail Beketov, the editor of Khimkinskaya Pravda, a local paper based in the Moscow suburb of Khimki succumbed in April 2013 to the injuries he sustained in November 2008 while campaigning against the construction of a motorway through Khimki forest.
The RSF report points out that journalists who cover environmental issues live in a dangerous climate and are exposed to potentially devastating forces. “We are not talking about nature’s hurricanes, squalls, downpours or lightning,” says Christophe Deloire, RSF Secretary-General. At the intersection of political, economic, cultural and sometimes criminal interests, the environment is a highly sensitive subject, and those who shed light on pollution or any kind of planetary degradation often get into serious trouble, Deloire said in the report.
The situation of environmental reporters has worsened in many countries since 2009, when RSF conducted the first global study on the issue. Environment stories range from global warming to deforestation, the exploitation of natural resources, pollution – issues that often involve more than just protection of the environment, especially when they shed light on the illegal activities of industrial groups, local organized crime and even government officials. Environment reporters are often pitted against very strong lobbies and end up paying a high price for their journalistic pursuits. RSF says, like political and business reporters, many environmental reporters acknowledge being approached by companies trying to bribe them.
RSF notes that forming peer associations to protect themselves would be a better way of dealing with these atrocities instead of fighting lonely battles against mighty corporations, corrupt politicians and mafia groups.