Global media clampdowns amid COVID-19 crisis alarming-UN human rights chief


UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has recently expressed deep disappointment that several states have imposed restrictive measures against independent media, saying that free flow of information is vital in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic.

Ms. Bachelet also said that media practitioners are now working in an environment made hostile by statements of government leaders who seems to blame the messenger of the turmoil caused by the global crisis.

“Some States have used the outbreak of the new coronavirus as a pretext to restrict information and stifle criticism,” Bachelet said.

“A free media is always essential, but we have never depended on it more than we do during this pandemic, when so many people are isolated and fearing for their health and livelihoods. Credible, accurate reporting is a lifeline for all of us,” added the UN human rights chief.

According to the International Press Institute, there have been over 130 alleged media violations since the start of the outbreak, including more than 50 reported instances of restrictions on access to information, censorship and excessive regulation of misinformation.

Nearly 40 journalists have been arrested or charged in the Asia-Pacific, Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Africa for reports critical of the State response to the pandemic or for simply questioning the accuracy of official numbers of cases and deaths related to COVID-19. The actual number of media violations and arrests is probably far higher, said the institute.

There have also been reports of journalists disappearing after publishing coverage critical of the COVID-19 response, and several news outlets have been closed by the authorities over their reporting.

“This is no time to blame the messenger. Rather than threatening journalists or stifling criticism, States should encourage healthy debate concerning the pandemic and its consequences. People have a right to participate in decision-making that affects their lives, and an independent media is a vital medium for this,” Bachelet said.

Additionally, independent media provide medical professionals and relevant experts a platform to speak freely and share information with each other and the public, she said.

The UN’s human rights chief echoed concerns raised by the Secretary-General about the “dangerous epidemic of misinformation” around the pandemic which generated confusion and more ill-health, and paid tribute to the journalists working in the independent media whose fact-checking provided truth and clarity.

“Journalists are playing an indispensable role in our response to this pandemic, but unlike the grave threats posed to other essential workers, the threats media workers face are entirely avoidable. Protecting journalists from harassment, threats, detention or censorship helps keep us all safe,” Bachelet said. (Source: OHCHR)