World Press Freedom Day: No alternative to press freedom to tackle climate crisis

Staff Correspondent:  There is no alternative to freedom of the press and freedom of expression to ensure democracy. It is also imperative that the safety and freedom of the press be prioritized to tackle the ongoing environmental crisis and natural disasters. Marking World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) 2024, speakers made these remarks at panel discussions organized jointly by UNESCO (Dhaka office & regional office-New Delhi), Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), and ARTICLE 19.

The discussions centered around the WPFD theme of this year – “A Press for the Planet: Journalism in the Face of the Environmental Crisis.” There were two separate panel discussions where the panelists talked about issues like the ongoing oppression against journalists and their safety concerns in the context of climate-related issues, freedom of expression and the press, tackling misinformation, and access to information.

Speaking as a panelist, Dr. Iftekharuzzaman, Executive Director of TIB, said, “In the period from 2022 to 2023, while covering environmental issues, there were 23 attacks on the media, resulting in the torture of 43 journalists. Between 2016 to 2021 alone, 12 individuals, including environmental rights activists, were killed for protesting against coal-based plants.”

He further stated that those who are legally responsible for protecting the environment are the ones leading the destruction of the environment. Therefore, it is imperative to create an environment where journalists and civil society organizations can play their active roles. But in reality, such space is being shrunk by the use of repressive acts like the Digital Security Act. Taking part in the “zero-sum political game,” journalists and rights activists are harassed by misusing laws, which ultimately benefits a certain faction. The harassment of media workers and civil society actors has been normalized through this process. There are additional risks while reporting on land grabbing, water bodies’ destruction, or the construction of training centers by taking over protected land. To tackle such challenges, those who are responsible in the government have to respect the commitment to freedom of press and speech enshrined in the constitution, so journalists and activists working on environmental issues do not become the victims of ‘shoot the messenger.’

Speaking at the opening session, Susan Vize, Head of Office and UNESCO Representative to Bangladesh, said, “Raising public awareness about climate change and other environmental issues in Bangladesh is critical to achieving behavioral change. The media remains the single most influential source of credible public information. WPFD 2024 aims to build the capacity of Bangladesh’s media to ensure accurate and impactful coverage of the current environmental crises.”

Alexandra Berg von Linde, Ambassador to Bangladesh, Sweden Embassy, said, “Public interest is inextricably linked to climate change and environmental degradation. The negative effects of climate change are becoming more visible, affecting people’s daily lives. People want to know about the results and effects of negative climate change. Freedom of the media and the ability to report independently on all such matters of public interest are important elements of democracy.”

Responding to a question about the misuse of repressive acts- ICT, DSA & CSA, and safety concerns of journalists, Mohammad Ali Arafat, State Minister, Information and Broadcasting Ministry, said, “We always talk about ensuring freedom of the press. However, in some cases, vested interests exploit this freedom to publish agenda-driven news and disseminate misinformation. Instances of such misinformation regarding Rampal or Adani power plants have been observed. Therefore, alongside ensuring media freedom, accountability must also be ensured. If media freedom is misused to spread false information or disinformation, appropriate legal action should be taken. However, I will take necessary steps to ensure the protection of journalists in the country who report on environmental crises or climate issues based on truth and scientific evidence.”

The first panel discussion titled “A Press for the Planet: Free Press and Freedom of Expression in the Context of Current Global Environmental Crisis” kicked off with the presentations of Shamsuddin Illius, Bureau Chief-Chittagong, The Business Standard, and Usraat Fahmidah, Freelance Journalist, regarding the challenges of journalism in environmental issues and training young journalists. It was moderated by Sheikh Manjur-E-Alam, Regional Director, ARTICLE 19, while Mohammad Ali Arafat, State Minister of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, was the chief guest. Alexandra Berg von Linde, Ambassador to Bangladesh, Sweden Embassy; Dr. Iftekharuzzaman, Executive Director, TIB; and Rejoan Haq, Editor-in-Chief, Maasranga Television, participated as panelists. A book on the Safety of Journalists in the South Asia Region was launched during the session.

The second panel discussion focused on the safety issues of journalists under the theme of “Media Defense for Crisis Reporting,” where journalists and experts from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, India, the Maldives, and Sri Lanka participated. It was moderated by Shafiqul Alam, Bureau Chief, Dhaka, Agence France-Presse (AFP). The second session kicked off with the presentations of Ms. Sabina Inderjit, Vice-President, International Federation of Journalists, and Ms. Princess Giri Rashir, Meghalaya State Correspondent, EastMojo. The panelists for this session were Hezekiel Dlamini, Advisor for Communication and Information for South Asia UNESCO New Delhi Regional Office; Ms. Yeshi Pelmo, Programme Officer, Journalist Association of Bhutan; Ms. Radhika Roy, Litigation Counsel, Internet Freedom Foundation; Mr. Mohamed Junayd Saleem, Senior Member, Maldives Journalist Association; Mr. Viranjana Herath, Chairperson/Founder, Media Law Forum; and Ashita Singh, Associate Project Officer, UNESCO New Delhi Regional Office.


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