Nearly half of journalists covering climate crisis globally received threats for their work

<span>A vigil in São Paulo, Brazil, on 23 June 2022 for British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira.</span><span>Photograph: André Penner/AP</span>
A vigil in São Paulo, Brazil, on 23 June 2022 for British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira.Photograph: André Penner/AP

Almost four out of every 10 journalists covering the climate crisis and environment issues have been threatened as a result of their work, with 11% subjected to physical violence, according to groundbreaking new research.

A global survey of more than 740 reporters and editors from 102 countries found that 39% of those threatened “sometimes” or “frequently” were targeted by people engaged in illegal activities such as logging and mining. Some 30%, meanwhile, were threatened with legal action – reflecting a growing trend towards corporations and governments deploying the judicial system to muzzle free speech.

The global survey by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network (EJN) and Deakin University is the first-of-its-kind scrutiny of the challenges faced by journalists covering arguably the most pressing – if not existential – issues of our time.

The Covering the Planet report includes in-depth interviews with 74 journalists from 31 countries about what help they need to do a better job reporting extreme weather, plastics pollution, water scarcity, and mining as global heating and unchecked corporate greed pushes the planet to its limits.

The majority said climate and environmental stories have more prominence – relative to other subjects – than a decade ago, but the volume of coverage of the climate crisis is still not commensurate with the gravity of the problem.

Record-breaking temperatures, storms, floods, drought and wildfires are striking with increasing intensity across the world, with low-income communities, Indigenous peoples and people of color the most vulnerable to climate impacts. Slow-onset disasters such as sea level rise, glacier melts, ocean acidification and desertification are also driving forced migration, hunger and other human health disasters.

Despite the breadth and magnitude of the problems, 39% of journalists surveyed reported having self-censored – mostly due to fear of repercussions from “those undertaking illegal activities” or the government. It’s not just that some reporters and editors feel compelled to exclude potentially important information from their audience – 62% reported including statements from sources who are skeptical of anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change or climate science, in the misguided belief that this was required for balance.

“The work of ‘covering the planet’ poses diverse challenges for journalists all around the world – but this work is urgent and vital,” said Dr Gabi Mocatta, lead researcher from Deakin University. “This study, for the first time, offers truly global insights on reporting climate change and environmental harms … Such insights are crucial in order to support and amplify the work of journalists who tell the most important stories of our times.”

The survey also found an overwhelming need for more resources for newsrooms covering the environment and the climate crisis: 76% of those surveyed said insufficient resources limit their coverage, and identified more funding for in-depth journalism, in-person training and workshops, and more access to relevant data and subject experts as among their top priorities.

Many rely on funding from non-profits that are often tied to particular subjects, yet journalists would prefer the freedom to cover the most locally relevant climate environmental topics.

“The journalists surveyed are steadfast in their dedication to reporting on how climate change and environmental crimes are negatively impacting both people and the planet – but they desperately need more support,” said James Fahn, executive director of the Earth Journalism Network.

It’s not just environmental journalists under threat. At least 1,910 land and environmental defenders around the world have been killed since 2012.

  • This article was amended on 5 June 2024 to clarify that 39% of those threatened “sometimes” or “frequently” were targeted by people engaged in illegal activities. A previous version incorrectly said 49%.