ZELA Statement on World Press Freedom Day 2024


3 May 2024

Journalism in the face of the Environmental Crisis

As we celebrate World Press Freedom Day, we once again amplify calls for journalists to take up their role in environmental protection and promote responsible natural resource governance for a sustainable future.

Journalism and the press have a critical role in safeguarding the environment and this year’s theme, “A Press for the Planet: Journalism in the face of the Environmental Crisis” which focuses on the importance of journalism and freedom of expression in the context of the current global environmental crisis, highlights the importance of telling the environmental story to shape a greener and better future. 

In line with UNESCO’s assertion that the press plays a significant role in ensuring access to, and dissemination of information to ensure and secure a sustainable future that respects the rights of individuals and their diversity of voices, the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) believes that the media is an indispensable partner in efforts to promote Environmental, Economic, Social and Cultural (EESC) rights, which are reflective of natural resources governance.

As such, building the capacity of journalists to report on environmental issues is a priority in ZELA programs which seek to ensure that the press is well grounded in areas such as access to information, investigative approaches, and storytelling as part of advocacy towards responsible resource management and environmental protection.

ZELA considers the link between a free and independent press and safeguarding the environment, a human rights issue where journalists act as watchdogs, holding governments and corporations accountable for their environmental practices and policies. Journalists are, therefore, Environmental Human Rights Defenders (EHRD’s), defined by the United Nations (UN) as “individuals and groups who, in their personal or professional capacity and in a peaceful manner, strive to protect and promote human rights relating to the environment, including water, air, land, flora and fauna.”

In addition, as the media investigates issues like pollution, deforestation, and climate change, bringing important facts to the public’s attention, they safeguard the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, recognized by the UN Human Rights Council as a basic human right in 2021. Similarly, Section 73 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe provides for environmental rights and calls for environmental information to be made public and disseminated as widely as possible for public participation to be guaranteed in decision making on projects, plans and programmes with significant environmental implications, and for access to justice to be granted to the public in environmental matters.


Such legal provisions which categorize environmental issues as human rights, inform ZELA’s work with the media as an important stakeholder in the delivery of environmental justice. Furthermore, a free press enables the dissemination of environmental information and facilitates public discourse on these critical matters. It empowers citizens to make informed decisions and participate in the democratic process of environmental policymaking.

However, despite the foundation being laid for journalists to deliver on their mandate as environmental human rights defenders, their work is still curtailed by social, economic, and political constraints which compromise the efficacy of environmental reporting in the country. Environment focused journalists have over the years decried incapacitation due to challenges such as, lack of resources, lack of information, inaccessibility of some areas, the predominance of English at the expense of indigenous languages, and public resistance to behavior change due to lack of interest in environmental issues. Cases of victimization of environmental human rights defenders also place environmental journalists at risk where there is impunity in instances of violence.

The work of environmental reporters as watchdogs also places them at loggerheads with corporate and at times government interests as there is growing demand for the extraction and exploitation of natural resources. Naturally, where there is fear by journalists that violence and harassment against them will not be thoroughly investigated and perpetrators punished, self-censorship prevails, to the detriment of the environment.

On this background, ZELA notes that there are numerous and varied restrictions on press freedoms that can hinder the exposure of environmental wrongdoings and make it harder for the public to access reliable information. Therefore, in commemorating World Press Freedom Day, the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association calls for the following to ensure a free press and by extension the right to a clean, healthy, and safe environment:

  • Parliament to prioritize the adoption and implementation of laws that reduce restrictions to civic space.
  • Media houses, stakeholders, and partners to provide adequate resources for environmental reportage.
  • Law enforcers and the judiciary to ensure protection of journalists from violence and intimidation for executing their watchdog role.
  • Civil society and academia to increase training for journalists on environmental reporting.
  • Environmental experts to increase information availability on environmental issues.

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