By Jeanne Bourgault
On World Press Freedom Day, we recognize that never before has the need for independent media and reliable information been greater, and yet never more at risk.
In the era of COVID-19, journalists around the world are seeing authorities seize the opportunity to crack down on freedom of expression.
My colleague Saoussen Ben Cheikh has written about authorities in the Middle East and North Africa using COVID-19 as a pretense to shut down all newspaper distribution, and that the spreading use of a “war” narrative in fighting the disease has “led governments around the world to execute emergency powers and impose draconian measures that in all other circumstances would be unacceptable.”
Even in less-extreme cases, and in democratic governments, we cannot turn a blind eye to the slippery slope restrictions on information that face us today.
At the onset of the pandemic, we asked our staff and partners about their greatest challenges in covering COVID-19; many mentioned the difficulty of reporting while maintaining social distance; they also mention fears that governments would not provide data or reliable statistics on the disease.
“Journalists ask, ‘How do you report on the numbers, on the statistics, in a scenario where you can’t trust your own government to give you the exact figures?'” — Artyom Liss, Lithuania
“There is no possibility to ask questions of officials. There is no access to information as it would normally be. We need pressure on our governments, to not overstate the state of emergency, and allow media to operate, to inform the public.” — Corina Cepoi, Moldova
As we mark World Press Freedom Day, we stand with the incredible work of our colleagues in press freedom advocacy organizations, who help bring light to this cause in their efforts year-round.
- The International Federation of Journalists report in a survey that three in four journalists have faced official restrictions, obstruction or intimidation in reporting on Covid-19.
- The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on all world leaders to immediately and unconditionally release all journalists imprisoned for their work.
- The International Women’s Media Foundation remembers that press cannot be truly free without the equal voice of women, challenging media everywhere to work toward gender balance in reporting.
And we join with the members of the Global Forum for Media Development, calling for robust and urgent support for independent media around the world. We must ensure the viability of independent media.
Together with our partners around the world – the media outlets, internet freedom advocates, fact checkers, media literacy trainers, social media influencers, information researchers, artists, lawyers, and technologists we work with every day, we recognize that every challenge we face as a society must be met with press freedom.
No matter the day – amid a pandemic, in times of conflict, and in relative stability, we are lost without a free and independent press. We must all work together to protect press freedom.