June 13th, 2024

UN chief calls for protection of journalists in World Press Freedom Day message

Secretary-General António Guterres highlights the increased attacks on environmental journalists and stresses the importance of media freedom.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres
UN Secretary-General António Guterres

In his message for World Press Freedom Day, observed annually on 3 May, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for heightened protection for journalists, especially those covering environmental issues, citing a significant rise in attacks against them.

The Secretary-General underscored the crucial role of media professionals in educating and informing the public about the global environmental emergency, which he described as an existential threat to current and future generations. He noted that media workers not only raise awareness of issues like climate crisis, biodiversity loss, and environmental injustice but also play a pivotal role in documenting acts of environmental vandalism and holding perpetrators to account.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), there have been approximately 750 attacks on journalists reporting on environmental topics over the past 15 years, with the frequency of these attacks increasing. Guterres expressed concern over the dangerous conditions under which journalists operate, particularly those investigating illegal activities such as mining, logging, and poaching. He highlighted that the majority of these attacks go unpunished, further endangering the profession.

The Secretary-General also pointed out that legal processes are often manipulated to silence and intimidate environmental reporters. Additionally, he mentioned the emerging challenge of climate disinformation campaigns aimed at undermining scientifically proven solutions, including renewable energy initiatives.

Guterres did not limit his concerns to environmental journalists. He also highlighted the broader risks faced by media workers worldwide, including those reporting from conflict zones such as Gaza, where journalists have been casualties in military operations.

Emphasising the essential nature of press freedom, Guterres stated, "Without facts, we cannot fight mis- and disinformation. Without accountability, we will not have strong policies in place. Without press freedom, we won’t have any freedom." He urged governments, private sectors, and civil societies around the world to reaffirm their commitment to safeguarding the freedom of the press and the rights of journalists.