Do No Harm: Researching and communicating safely from the Amazon | Latin America | DW | 11.06.2024
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Latin America

Do No Harm: Researching and communicating safely from the Amazon

The Amazon is one of the world’s most dangerous areas for journalists, especially when it comes to exposing the region’s socio-environmental challenges. DW Akademie works with its local partners on safety protocols.

Ecuador Amazonas 2024 | DW und DW Akademie besuchen Partner

William Barbaran González is director of the radio program Voces Amazónicas on Radio Del Progreso 107.7 FM in the Amazonian city of Pucallpa, in Peru

In the Peruvian Amazon forest, a regular contributor to the online news site Servindi, recently fell silent while starting to work on a security protocol to cover environmental issues. He stopped attending face-to-face and virtual meetings, and only when the media team visited him at his home did he reveal the reason: recurring threats for his journalistic work and fear of further reprisals for sharing it. 

Latin America tops statistics on violence against environmental defenders and journalists. At the same time, fear prevents them from sharing their situation with the media they work for. With no formal security protocols for community or local media, each journalist deals with situations by intuition.

On the other hand, just as violence in the Amazon is closely related to resource extraction, from oil and mining operations to illegal fishing or drug trafficking, journalism is also a resource that can be extracted. Too often, journalists take from the communities the information it is interested in and leave the local population with the consequences of what was published. 

In the face of these challenges, DW Akademie and its local partners, Agenda Propia in Colombia, CORAPE in Ecuador and Servindi in Peru, advocate for "Do No Harm." This approach usually aims to prevent international cooperation projects from generating unintentional harm in communities. The same principle applies to protecting communicators, information sources and local population throughout all reporting stages.

Ecuador Amazonas 2024 | DW und DW Akademie besuchen Partner

DW Akademie's partner representatives work together on their security protocols

No independent journalism without safety 

 "Reporting from the Amazon is very risky," said William Barbarán González, a radio broadcaster from the Amazonian department of Ucayali in Peru. "Almost all river basins are controlled and you cannot enter without authorization."

Aware of the dangers, communicators like Barbarán take daily precautions. They inform someone they trust about their plans, avoid accompanying threatened indigenous leaders or warn local authorities of their presence in the area. But these practices are not systematized or formalized as common guidelines. 

Together with its partners, DW Akademie supports the development of security protocols for Amazonian journalists. To achieve this, it conducted a joint mapping of the actors and the context, followed by advice from expert organizations such as Periodistas Sin Cadenas in Ecuador and Mongabay Latam in Peru. 

"It is an opportunity to formalize these mechanisms and define the roles in the team: how a threat is processed, how a protocol is activated or when to seek support from other entities," said Alexa Vélez, editor of Mongabay Latam and a project advisor. 

Ecuador Amazonas 2024 | DW und DW Akademie besuchen Partner

CORAPE, DW Akademie's partner in Ecuador, developed a security protocol together with representatives of its community media network in the Amazon

From extraction journalism to joint work 

Safety measures must consider not only the protection of journalists but also the possible harm to sources who provide local information and could potentially suffer reprisals after publication. 

"Some media film community protests, for example, without taking into account the risk for those under threat from armed actors," explained Jorge Agurto, Servindi's intercultural media director. Journalism under the umbrella of Do No Harm can be translated into the direct inclusion of local communities in content production or greater coordination between national media and local communicators.

These recommendations are the basis for the media to develop their own safety protocols for communicators, sources and communities, and can be adapted to their contexts. A commitment to Do No Harm guarantees safe local and community journalism with the potential to influence policy and social change. 

Since 2023, DW Akademie has been developing the project "Journalism and Protection of the Amazon," promoted by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, together with its local partners Agenda Propia, CORAPE and Servindi in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. The goal is to enable local and community media to collect and provide information securely to civil society organizations so that they, in turn, can use it for political advocacy at the local, national and international levels.