3 May, 2024
This post was broadcasted from MISA Regional.
As of April 2024, at least three Southern African countries — Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe — had declared the 2023-2024 agricultural season a state of disaster.

The  focus  of  this  year’s  World  Press  Freedom  Day  commemorations  —  the  importance of journalism and freedom of  expression  in  the  context  of  the  current  global  environment  crisis  —  is  apt,  as  it  comes  when  the  Southern  African  region is experiencing the effects of a climate shock.

In  2023  and  2024,  the  region  was  hit  by  effects  of  the  El  Niño  phenomenon,  which  is characterised  by  warm  weather  and  reduced  rainfall, leading to widespread food insecurity.

As of April 2024, at least three Southern African countries — Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe — had declared the 2023-2024 agricultural season a state of disaster.

The  three  countries  are  seeking  billions  of  dollars to stave off hunger.

In such a situation, access to information and awareness  are  vital  components  in  mitigating  the effects of the drought.

This  assists  an  informed  citizenry  to  make  informed  decisions  about  their  lives  regarding  the environmental crisis.

Inadequate  access  to  information  creates  a  vacuum often filled with quackery, conspiracy theories,  misinformation,  and  disinformation,  which  only  aggravates  the  effects  of  the environmental crisis — in this case, the El Niño phenomenon.

This   was   the   case   during   the COVID-19   pandemic, which is still fresh in many people’s minds.

Authorities    did    not    provide  adequate    information, and journalists were not allowed to perform their duties freely, resulting in a spike in misinformation that impacted efforts to curb the spread of the disease.

One  of  the  lessons  and  experiences  drawn  from the COVID-19 pandemic is that journalists are allies in mitigating the effects of disasters such as those caused by climate change.

Furthermore,  access  to  reliable  information  helps separate fact from fiction, with journalists being  a  key  conduit  of  information  between  scientists  and  government  officials,  on  one hand, and citizens, on the other.

The   United Nations   (UN) recognises   that   access to information is a key building block to creating democratic societies and strengthening democracy in the face of growing misinformation and disinformation.

For this reason, UN Sustainable Development Goal  (SDG)  16.10  specifically  addresses public  access  to  information  and  protecting  fundamental freedoms.

As  the  world  in  general,  and  Southern  Africa  in  particular,  continues  to  face  the  current  environmental   crisis,   authorities   must   view   journalists as friends rather than enemies.

The  media  is  a  building  block  for  democracy  and progress and, most importantly, a channel for enhanced access to information rather than a medium that needs to be censored.

In the year ahead, we need to  expend  our  energies fighting for the rights of all journalists, particularly    environmental    journalists,  to lessen  the  effects  of  climate  change.  Access to information is imperative in combating any  disaster.

We should focus on training and building the capacity of journalists to report more effectively on climate and environmental issues to protect the planet and inform the public for a better  understanding of these issues.

Various international organisations,  governments, non-governmental organisations, and  advocacy  groups  are  using  public  interest  information to redouble their efforts for a more sustainable  future  in  line  with  the  Sustainable  Development  Goals  of  the  2030  Agenda  for  Sustainable Development.

As  we  commemorate  this  year’s  World  Press  Freedom  Day,  we  must  be  conscious  of  the  persistent   and   emerging   threats   to   media   freedom.

The   emergence of   new   technologies  has  aggravated attacks on journalists — particularly women journalists — who face disproportionate violations online.

In addition,   women,    generally,     are     more  affected  and  face  greater  risks  and disproportionate burdens due to the impacts of climate change, notably women in situations of poverty  due  to  existing  roles,  responsibilities,  and cultural norms.

Undoubtedly, the battle to instill and inculcate a gendered thrust and approach  to confront  gender violence is urgent.

Click this link to access the report 

About MISA

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) was founded in 1992. Its work focuses on promoting, and advocating for, the unhindered enjoyment of freedom of expression, access to information and a free, independent, diverse and pluralistic media.

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