In times of crises, access to reliable information is crucial. And now, with COVID-19, good journalism which provides the public with reliable and factual information can save lives. Journalism that report on COVID-19, its health risks and developments, holds governments accountable and covers stories that live within society. However, the pressure on media and journalists worldwide is increasing dramatically.
- In several countries, laws are being amended or tightened giving governments even more power to prosecute journalists. For example, in Hungary on 30 March the "Bill on Protection against the Coronavirus" was approved. This law empowers the government to impose a maximum term of imprisonment of up to five years on journalists who allegedly spread false information about COVID-19. This provides the government with more tools to intimidate and threaten journalists and force them to practise self-censorship.
What Free Press Unlimited does: Together with nine other press freedom organisations, we urge the European Commission to take action.
- Journalists who inquire about the measures taken by governments to combat COVID-19 are being threatened and attacked. For example, Slovenian journalist Blaž Zgaga received death threats and was the target of a smear campaign after he asked the government for information on the COVID-19 approach.
What Free Press Unlimited does: Together with Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and other press freedom organisations, we sent an open letter to Slovenian Interior Minister Aleš Hojs to end harassment against Blaž Zgaga and allow journalists to do their work.
- Media and journalists have no or limited access to press conferences in a number of countries. For example, Serbia denies access to journalists and Macedonia only allows journalists to participate digitally. As a result, critical questions are not asked or answered.
- Journalists reporting on COVID-19 face health risks as they often report on and from infected areas.
- Curfews and lockdowns limit journalists freedom of movement to decide when and where they to report. Journalists must be able to report at any time.
- In countries such as Niger, Venezuela, Iran and Zimbabwe, journalists who are reporting on COVID-19 are arrested. For example, on 21 March, Venezuelan journalist Darvinson Rojas was arrested and has been in prison ever since.
How we support journalists during COVID-19
Free Press Unlimited continues to support her partners in more than 40 countries so they can provide the public with reliable information, despite the increasing pressure on media and journalists during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through our funds such as the Legal Defense Fund and the emergency fund Reporters Respond, we support media and journalists worldwide with:
- Protection materials so that journalists can report safely on the coronavirus. So far, we helped nearly 2,000 journalists in countries such as Venezuela, Indonesia, Iraq, Ukraine and Azerbaijan.
- Legal support for journalists who are charged or arrested because of COVID-19 reporting.
- Psychosocial support to journalists in the Balkans, among others.