These days we often talk about critical jobs such doctors, health workers and many others that work on the COVID19 front-line. Journalists do critical jobs too, for the health of our societies - often by putting themselves at risk - so we can stay informed, empowered and safe. All those women and men make our societies and democracies more open, transparent and resilient..
In our yearly campaign for press freedom, many journalists reminded us that having access to reliable information and holding governments to account can be a life-saver.
The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered an unprecedented global response and some of our freedoms are temporarily restricted. Regrettably, some governments around the world have abused this crisis and used it as an opportunity to clamp down on press freedom. Journalists and media workers have been harassed, threatened, detained and imprisoned for reporting on COVID-19.
Unfortunately, for many this is a reality that is all too familiar. Even in less extraordinary times, too many journalists have paid the highest price for bringing us the truth. According to Reporters Without Borders, 52 media workers lost their lives on the job, while 398 were put in prison and 57 were held hostage in 2019. Governments should protect the media and their work, end impunity for crimes against journalists, and release all those who are held for their reporting.
Over the last months, independent media outlets have faced ever growing and unprecedented pressure in many media markets. Some newspapers have been silenced for publishing news on the virus that did not please those in power, for example reporting that real figures on COVID-19 deaths were higher than the official numbers. Some were accused of propagating fake news, because they criticised their governments. Others are struggling because of the financial hardships that the crisis has caused.
It is clear, that the confinement measures have slowed down economies, reduced media advertisement revenues, closed newsstands and put restrictions on free movement and reporting. All this will have a serious effect on a media sector that already faces difficulties in many countries. Some independent media outlets are starting to scale down their reporting, or dismiss journalists. Without emergency support, many may be confronted with the threat of closure. Losing these media outlets would deprive the world of crucial voices that we need for the good functioning of democracies. A weakening of media pluralism would worsen the risks of misinformation and disinformation spreading.
On World Press Freedom Day and in particular during this pandemic, I call on everyone to protect journalists and media workers at all times; to release those that are held unjustly and to support independent media, both politically and financially.
The reason is simple:
Press freedom is our freedom that we all need to defend. Especially in times of crisis.