World Press Freedom Day finds journalists anything but…

(IPS) — World Press Freedom Day yesterday found journalists worldwide facing crises on multiple fronts, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to findings by Paris-based watchdog group Reporters without Borders.

Just over a week ago, the organisation released its 2020 World Press Freedom Index in which it noted that the coronavirus was being used by authoritarian governments to implement “shock doctrine” measures that would be impossible in normal times.

The index shows a “clear correlation between suppression of media freedom in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and a country’s ranking in the index”. Of the 180 countries and territories in the index, Iran (ranked at 173) censored their coronavirus outbreaks extensively. Iraq, at 162, punished Reuters for an article that questioned official pandemic figures, and Hungary (ranked at 89) has just passed a coercive coronavirus law.

UNESCO’s Kingston office will today commemorate Caribbean World Press Freedom Day with a focus on threats to press freedom, media independence and safety of journalists in the face of COVID-19. A virtual dialogue titled ‘Rethinking the Media Landscape in Caribbean SIDS post-CoVID-19’ will be held today starting at 8:00 am. The public is invited to visit Facebook@unescocaribbean for details.

According to Reporters Without Borders, the long-term risks of suppressing press freedoms have been exposed by the pandemic. As the death toll mounts amidst an economic crisis of unprecedented proportions, promoting transparent reporting is a global necessity. Yet, several countries stand accused of acting too late in warning the world about the timing and extent of the threat.

The World Press Freedom Index illustrates the oppression of journalists from North to South, and a pandemic in its own right seems to have fomented.

In Myanmar, Voice of Myanmar‘s editor was arrested recently and charged with terrorism for interviewing a representative of the Arakan Army, a rebel group fighting for regional autonomy.

Even the president of the world’s most powerful democracy – the United States – has described the press as “the enemy of the people”.

The report did not mention that Jamaican journalists were temporarily blocked from moving freely in St Catherine, after the parish was put under lockdown by the Government in order to contain the spread of COVID-19. The decision was quickly reversed after protests from the George Davis-led Press Association of Jamaica and the Media Association Jamaica.

It said that ultimately, freedom of the press can only be guaranteed by a coordinated global effort, public awareness, and a focus on the long-term advantages of a more critical world.

This year’s World Press Freedom Day aimed to do just that, under the theme ‘Journalism Without Fear or Favour’. It called for awareness on specific issues about the safety of journalists, their independence from political or commercial influence, and gender equality in all aspects of the media.

In the words of Albert Camus, “…without freedom, the press will never be anything but bad”.

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