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The protection of freedom of expression requires ensuring the rights and integrity of vulnerable individuals and groups, and the cases of women in general and journalists covering environmental crimes are examples of particular importance as they are regularly targeted, marginalised and silenced when they access or provide information. Ensuring equitable access to communication technologies and safeguarding the ability to share information without fear of retribution are critical to upholding human rights, and collective action based on a complete understanding of the power dynamics behind these threats is crucial in this endeavour.  

With this in mind, the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) participated in the 31st World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) Conference, which was hosted under the topic “A Press for the Planet: Journalism in the face of the environmental crisis”. APC co-organised two side events this year: “The gender dimensions of disinformation: Freedom of expression and gender justice” was presented alongside the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression (UN SRFoE) and Free Press Unlimited (FPU), while “Disinformation and other risks of covering environmental crimes in the Amazon” was co-hosted with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Intervozes. Both events took place on 4 May 2024 at Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral in Santiago, Chile, and sought to gain understanding into the causes of disinformation and the consequences for its survivors. 

Speakers at “The gender dimensions of disinformation” event included Ana Cristina Ruelas, senior programme specialist at UNESCO; Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Nompilo Simanje, International Press Institute’s (IPI) Africa Advocacy and Partnerships lead; Paula Martins, policy advocacy lead and programme manager at APC; and Julie Posetti, VP of Global Research at the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). Speakers at the “Disinformation and other risks of covering environmental crimes in the Amazon” event included Manuel Calloquispe, journalist; Gave Cabral, journalist and member of Intervozes Coletivo Brasil de Comunicação Social; Ginna Morelo, investigative journalist and director of the Museo Entreríos; Paula Martins, policy advocacy lead and programme manager at APC; and Cristina Zahar, CPJ’s Latin American programme coordinator. Through first-hand accounts of activists on the ground and expert insights at these events, we learned how journalists and women who exercise their freedom of expression face targeted disinformation campaigns. 

APC’s new report Placing “gender” in disinformation, was also presented at both events. This report addresses how we can characterise gendered disinformation and why it is important to understand it to give visibility to particular situations of abuse that require specific and targeted responses to make digital spaces safe for women and gender-diverse individuals. Speakers at both sessions recognised the contributions of the report and how its insights would be useful as part of future measures to address the multifaceted threats to those facing violence around the exercise of their rights to expression, communication, information with safety, freedom and dignity.

From the two side events, a common topic emerged regarding at-risk targets of disinformation: the convergence of dangers faced by journalists and by women when they exercise their freedom of expression. Disinformation campaigns have been used against journalists, environmental activists, and territory defenders, as well as women in working politics and activism, in order to silence and restrict the credibility of their work and the support of public opinion. Journalists Manuel Calloquispe and Gave Cabral, both covering environmental crimes in the Amazon region, shared first-hand experiences exemplifying the severe threats journalists face, including direct violence and socio-economic pressures from powerful entities engaged in environmental crimes.

The threats on hand are not merely a question of censorship or limitations, or even media attacks to their professional prestige: in both cases of journalists covering environmental crimes and women in the media, targeted disinformation campaigns have repercussions on their human rights and pose dangers to their safety and lives, as well as threats to their families and their mental health. Moreover, disinformation-based discrediting, along with the hate speech that tends to accompany it, as Posetti explained, also becomes disinformation-fuelled violent backlash, with physical attacks by certain members of the public. Ultimately, these targeted disinformation campaigns restrict journalists’ and women’s participation in society and damage freedom of expression, access to information, and the protection of human rights for everyone, and not just the targeted groups.

The sessions provided insight into how disinformation campaigns pose severe risks to journalists’ credibility, safety and lives, especially in regions like the Amazon. This thematic discussion touched upon the specific vulnerabilities of women journalists. In this regard, Khan (UN) presented the highlights of the UN Special Report on Freedom of Expression and the recommendations she had included in her 2023 report to the UN General Assembly. She explained how “context is key to understand the scope of the consequences of gendered disinformation”, and that “women are often the targets of compounded threats through gendered disinformation and cyberattacks that have consequences online and offline”. 

Both sessions also discussed factors that add complexity to the solutions we must devise to address technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV) and protection for journalists. In the case of environmental activists or journalists in the Amazon, responses require addressing factors like local corruption and organised crime. In the case of gendered disinformation, ill-suited responses are a risk since gender activists are simultaneously targets of disinformation campaigns and often accused of being agents spreading disinformation. Due to their positions on gender-related issues, LGBTQIA+ activists have, for example, been accused of disseminating misleading western values or “false” values that go against family principles and mainstream cultural standards, and are often dubbed as spies, corrupts and degenerates, as explained by Martins of APC.

To address it efficiently, we must understand disinformation as a specific form of violence that threatens not only women and journalists’ freedom of expression but also their fundamental rights to life and safety. The APC report and the UN Special Report provide critical frameworks for understanding and combating these threats with robust human rights-aligned regulations to combat the misogyny and hate speech prevalent online, as stated by Posetti. Speakers offered insights into the measures that must be implemented and how they must be designed to fully protect vulnerable groups against the threats of disinformation. Simanje (IPI) focused on promoting digital safety literacy and societal resilience as means to empower women journalists and safeguard their digital spaces. The importance of community and solidarity networks among journalists was repeatedly emphasised. 

Moving forward, it will be essential to implement these recommendations and support community responses, invest in protective measures, and strengthen international policy, taking into account global governance’s role in tackling these issues as argued by Ruelas (UNESCO), and the need for systematic data collection to develop effective protection strategies as called for by journalist Morelo. 

The key takeaways from both events are clear: the convergence of threats highlights a profound human rights issue that demands collective action at all levels. Freedom of expression is a fundamental right enshrined in international human rights frameworks, and its violation through disinformation campaigns is a direct assault on democratic principles. Addressing this issue requires a coordinated global response, involving governments, international organisations, civil society and the private sector. Legal frameworks must be strengthened to hold perpetrators accountable, and robust support systems must be established to protect those targeted by such campaigns. Furthermore, cross-sector collaboration is essential to develop and implement comprehensive strategies that can effectively counter disinformation, promote digital literacy, and foster resilient and inclusive public discourse. Only through united efforts can we ensure that both journalists and women can exercise their rights to freedom of expression without fear of retribution.

While these side events served as powerful reminders about the importance of protecting women and journalists to contribute to justice, work must be continued collaboratively and steadily to safeguard our objective of a world where everyone can thrive through communication based on freedom and human rights.


Francia Baltazar is originally from Tijuana, Baja California. She holds a master’s degree in Political Biopsychology and Public Policy from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and International Relations from the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM). She specialises in applied behavioural science. She has worked as a consultant, analyst and researcher in various sectors, designing and implementing strategies for social impact, commercial expansion and communication.