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Dangerous reporting

G-Online

Could covering the environment get you killed?

Environment reporting

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Filipino journalist Joey Estriber was a happily married father of five children. He presented a radio show called "Let's talk about it" in the nation's Aurora province, northeast of Manila. He was an outspoken critic of intensive logging programs by companies purported to have links with the government, and campaigned for nine of them to have their permits withdrawn.

In March 2006, Estriber had just finished filing a report at an Internet cafe when he was grabbed by four men and forced into the back of a van. He has never been seen again.

Cyril Payen is a correspondent in Southeast Asia for several French media outlets. He and his crew were captured and detained in July 2009 by security guards working for a subsidiary of Indonesian firm Asia Pulp and Paper as they filmed trucks being loaded with logs on the island of Sumatra. They were handed over to local police who freed them after protests from local media.

KumKum Dasgupta is an editor and writer with the Hindustan Times in New Delhi. She says in 2009 she was invited to Sumatra by Greenpeace to report on deforestation of tropical forests, and its link to climate change. Although she had told the Indonesian embassy at home precisely what she was covering and then received a media visa, she was detained on the island and interrogated by local police who claimed her papers were out of order. Dasgupta was sent home.

"To date, I am unsure what other papers we needed to go to the forest area," she tells me. "I later checked with Greenpeace, since they were my local hosts. They sent me a mail saying that all my papers were in order."

These cases are just three examples of a growing trend of environmental journalists being threatened or hampered in their line of work.

At last year's UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, a group of 24 media and press freedom organisations, including the International Federation of Journalists, took the opportunity to issue a declaration to world leaders asking them to increase transparency and improve access to information, as well as to protect journalists reporting on environmental issues.

"With regards to the challenges of climate change, the media help to establish reliable, independent diagnoses of the state of our planet... Journalists and bloggers are needed to expose the corruption, nepotism and negligence that obstruct efforts to protect the environment," says the letter.

It continues: "Efforts to combat pollution will be severely weakened if environmental journalists and activists are not free to investigate. Illegal logging will not be revealed, much less halted, if reporters are arrested when they take an interest in the story. Likewise, limiting and monitoring CO2 emissions will be difficult if not impossible if the media are not independent."

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