Pandemic reaffirms importance of free media globally
Yesterday marked World Press Freedom Day, held annually since it was established by the United Nations in 1993 to “raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Global human rights organizations and press freedom advocates held online events across the world to mark the day due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. It is agreed by common consent that the ongoing pandemic that continues to hit humanity has once again underlined the importance of free media and accurate information globally.
Crucially important is the media’s power and role to press on governments to be more transparent and informative on matters critically vital for public health. The Chinese example, which has no tolerance to free media, is, therefore, very telling.
China, today, is at the heart of criticisms for concealing the extent of the coronavirus outbreak in late 2019 and under-reporting death toll and the number of total cases. Because of this, the extensive use of state means for a global communication campaign to promote how successful China was in the fight against the pandemic will be deemed to be a futile effort. To the attention of autocratic governments: Propaganda will never be considered journalism.
Another aspect concerning the importance of free media is its role in providing timely and accurate information about the course of the outbreak, as the world is suffering from a global health crisis and it’s extremely important that the people have access to verifiable information.
Talking to experts, especially medical doctors to inform about the outbreak, and disseminating news about the measures taken at the global and national level with practical advice to individuals on their daily lives continue to constitute an important part of the fight against the coronavirus.
This journalistic responsibility should not be overshadowed by governmental interventions, and, to the contrary, it should be supported by providing a constant flow of unbiased information for sake of public health.
A third aspect is the rise of social media in such days, which often bombards the minds of the already anxious people by fake news or unverifiable material. A healthy public fight against the contagious disease requires accurate information and not speculative, manipulative content both through online and offline channels.
It’s also important for the media to avoid politicization of the fight against a pandemic that hits everyone regardless of their political orientation. It should only focus on the people’s expectation for credible and reliable information about a disease that impacts their lives and families.
As stated by the Council of Europe on a statement about Press Freedom Day, “protecting freedom of expression and media freedom in times of a pandemic is of vital importance.” With concerns that the pandemic process would result in growing authoritarian inclinations across the world, protecting a free media will also be very crucial to keep the democratic order intact. This notion should never be undermined by any country, as the media is growingly under threat, both economically and politically.