Blank Spots in the Barents Region, Environmental journalism in a challenging climate

Around the Barents Sea, one of the world’s richest areas in natural resources, journalism is often a last line of defence for the environment. But journalists are few and far between, polluting corporations use aggressive methods to avoid scrutiny, and repressive laws hamper cross-border investigations. In a video and report, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) examines the status of press freedom and environmental journalism in the northernmost areas of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia.

The Barents Region includes northern Norway, northern Sweden, northern Finland, and northwestern Russia. It is one of the richest regions of the world in terms of natural resources. This attracts corporations and creates wealth, but extraction of oil, natural gas and minerals come with environmental risks. Journalism has long been a last line of defence for the region’s environment, but the climate for journalism is growing increasingly hostile.   

In the report titled Blank Spots in the Barents Region, RSF Sweden examines the challenges faced by environmental journalists in this region. This investigation is based on interviews with twelve journalists covering environmental and climate issues – three from each country in the Barents region – with close to 300 years of professional experience between them. 

”The threats towards climate and environmental journalists in the Barents region are real. Large business conglomerates, industries and policy makers in neither Norway, Sweden, Finland or Russia clearly won’t stop at anything to make it harder for journalists to investigate the effects of the so-called green transition and extraction of minerals and natural resources.

Erik Halkjaer
Président of RSF Sweden

RSF findings show several alarming tendencies: 

  • Corporations try to obstruct public access to information by referring to industrial secrets – and anxious authorities are falling for the tactic. 
  • Public organisations, even in countries that rank at the top of the World Press Freedom Index, are sensitive to political pressure and may attack editorial independence. 
  • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been accompanied by an assault on press freedom domestically – which has severely hampered the possibility of cross-border journalistic cooperation.
  • Corporations are increasingly targeting individual journalists, often labelling them as “activists” in order to discredit their reporting.  

In the face of a growing climate crisis, species extinction and increasing competition for the metals needed for the green economy, independent environmental journalism is crucial to safeguard both environmental interests and the public’s right to information.

Norway, Sweden, and Finland have long been bulwarks of press freedom. Now these countries need to ensure that environmental journalists can work unimpeded, while at the same time supporting Russian journalists affected by President Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on independent media. 

This investigation has been supported by the Svea Green Foundation and the Folke Bernadotte Academy.

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