Logging and deforestation are the danger zones in environmental reporting, Brossel said. Filipino journalist Joey Estriber, who often criticized intensive logging in the Aurora province northeast of Manila on his radio show, was kidnapped in 2006 and is still missing. He is presumed to be dead. Another recent case involved Lucio Flavio Pinto, the founder of Journal Pessoal, a Brazilian bimonthly newsletter based in Belem, who received thirty-three lawsuits when he published a series of reports on deforestation in the Amazon.
In Copenhagen, the REDD (a controversial proposal otherwise known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) is being debated as a means to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in developing countries. If a plan is enacted on that front, many more journalists will surely find themselves tracking whether or not the governments of developing countries are living up to forest conversation goals.
“We have delegations coming here … claiming that they will commit to fight against climate change,” Brossel said. “But when we look at the [implementation] details in their respective countries … there is a big difference [between rhetoric and practice].”
Pointing out that China has restricted journalists’ movement around the Himalayas, Brossel asked, “Why do journalists have to ask for special permits to go to this region? They should be able to travel freely to see the impacts of climate change on Tibetans.”
During protests at the Copenhagen climate summit over the weekend, a photographer with Investigate West, an online environmental news start-up, was arrested along with about 275 other demonstrators. According to a post on the Investigate West’s Web site, police officers detained the photographer—twenty-seven-year-old Christopher Crow—“despite his colleagues’ protest that he was only carrying out his duty as a journalist to document the unrest in the streets.” Three other journalists with Investigate West “were covering the protest, but were able to get away before police moved in wielding batons and police dogs to make arrests.”
“This is an outrageous affront to the freedom of the press. Reporters are obligated to cover civil disturbances like the protests in Copenhagen, and police who arrest journalists are violating their human rights,” said Investigate West’s editor, Rita Hibbard, according to the post. “Christopher and InvestigateWest are owed an apology by the Danish authorities and we will be filing a formal protest.”
For her part, Cherelle Jackson recently returned to Samoa from her short exile in New Zealand and decided to start her own publication, Environment Weekly. “I’ve gone more independent and I am fighting for environmental justice,” she said.
Going forward, her focus will be on climate change because, like all island states, Samoa is especially vulnerable to the rising sea level. Under such circumstances, it might seem like national governments in the developing world would welcome coverage about how climate change is taking a toll on their homelands.
“[But] it works both ways,” Jackson said. “It’s okay when it serves their purpose. But if you write against them then you’re at risk.”
At the press conference, Jackson stood up and asked the press freedom organizations there why groups like theirs don’t exist in her part of the world. “There are journalists in the South Pacific, too,” she said.