03.05.2021 Europe

World Press Freedom Day: Curbs on journalists increase under Covid pandemic

AP - Sakchai Lalit
LISTEN MAY 3, 2021
AP - Sakchai Lalit

On the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day, Unesco has warned of rising attacks on journalists, the viral spread of false information and "fake news" online and a general weakening of the media – all of which have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The 3 May date was first marked 30 years ago in Windhoek, Namibia, when African journalists composed an historic text which became a universal declaration calling for a free, independent and pluralistic press.

"World Press Freedom Day acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics," according to a Unesco statement

The theme of this year's World Press Freedom Day, “information as a public good”, underlines the "indisputable  importance  of verified  and  reliable  information," said Audrey Azoulay, Unesco's Director-General.

"It  calls  attention  to  the essential role of free and professional journalists  in  producing  and disseminating this information, by tackling misinformation and other harmful content."

Urgent policy shifts

In a letter released on 26 April, Unesco promoted the idea of information as a public good, saying urgent policy shifts are needed to help support the independent news media outlets which underpin fact-based journalism internationally.

“Already, we face drastic losses… The result is that we live in ever-expanding 'news deserts' devoid of local coverage and journalists are increasingly working under precarious conditions,” the letter read.

The letter said there the world of media needs a “new deal” – referencing the vast and wide-ranging government programmes and reforms enacted by former US President Franklin Roosevelt in response to the economic catastrophe of the Great Depression during the 1930's – that secures the viability of a free and pluralistic media ecosystem, while also enacting safeguards for the editorial independence essential to journalism as a public good.

Unesco added that the ongoing "collapse" of the media industry has occurred at the very juncture when independent media could "make the difference between life and death for millions of people or between the ending of the pandemic and the indefinite extension of the crisis caused by Covid-19".

World press freedom index

Media watch dog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published its yearly "Press Freedom Index" in April. Topping the list are the four Scandinavian countries, followed by Costa Rica. France is on a dismal 34th position, owing to police violence, harassment, corporate influence over the editorial line and an "overall climate of hostility" towards journalists.

Worst countries for journalists are China, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea. Bulgaria, on position 112, is the EU's worst country in terms of press freedom. 

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