Since the start of the pandemic, the harassment experienced by journalists in the Sub-Saharan countries has risen. This is seen in the arrests and detention of journalists, and government misuse of legislation to silence journalists and limit their freedom of expression and transparency.
Reportedly, by restricting the free movement and operation of journalists, the governments of Zimbabwe and Nigeria are withholding up to date, relevant, and independent information on COVID-19 from the public. Other countries suffer from poor information infrastructures where, despite good intentions, news from independent media, or even information from the government, does not reach high risk groups. This is true for Sudan, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, where remote areas and conflict zones are deprived of information on prevention and of advice on health.
Independent journalism is crucial
One of the key lessons learned during the recent Ebola epidemic was the crucial role of reliable, timely and independent information, and how important it is to safeguard media freedom in times of crisis. The project’s statement is therefore that, now more than ever, independent journalism, citizen reporting, open public discourse, and the free flow of information are crucial.
COVID-19 Response in Africa: together for reliable information, is a European Union-funded project that aims to help media outlets across 17 countries within Sub-Saharan Africa to survive the COVID-19 crisis.
Leon Willems, director of Free Press Unlimited: “‘Together for reliable information’ shows our determination to stand in solidarity. We work jointly and decisively to combat the lack of information, and support the media that serve the forgotten, the downtrodden and the unconnected.”
By joining forces in these challenging times, we are able to respond swiftly to the needs on the ground in a select number of countries, to provide the groups most at risk with independent and reliable information about COVID-19. In addition, independent media and journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa are supported with essential materials and resources for the purpose of capacity building.
Protect the right to freedom of expression and information
The consortium, led by Free Press Unlimited, is implementing this project as of 1 August 2020, the overall objective being to contribute to a better informed public and raise their awareness about how to protect themselves against COVID-19, and so limit the number of casualties.
A number of independent media outlets in Sub-Saharan countries are being encumbered by the pandemic. The project will support these media outlets so they can adapt and survive the crisis caused by COVID-19, and at the same time, protect freedom of expression and information during the crisis, by means of effective lobby and advocacy efforts.
The official launch of COVID-19 Response in Africa, was on the 28th of September, on the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI 2020), with a virtual round table Zoom conference.