The International Press Institute (IPI) and a number of other media freedom organisations has presented a report detailing media freedom violations in the EU and candidate countries during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Information from the report was discussed with the EU’s Vice President for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova.
Two incidents were noted in Albania. Firstly, the “intrusive voice message” sent via Vodafone from Prime Minister Edi Rama that advised people to wash their hands against Coronavirus and “protect themselves from the media”.
The second incident was when Ora News journalist Eliz Laze was threatened aggressively by a construction worker from Salillari for filming them carrying out work in violation of the COVID-19 curfew.
Five incidents were reported in Serbia including a decree forbidding local institutions from providing “non-authorised” information to the media. The directive was reversed but not before Serbian journalist, Ana Lalic was detained. Since her release, she has been threatened and targeted in an online smear campaign branding her an enemy of the state.
Neighbouring Turkey was criticised for a number of arrests and detentions over-reporting on the pandemic. Journalists were accused of inciting hatred, creating fear and panic throughout the country.
The IPI noted that:
During the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis, the need for the free flow of independent news is more essential than ever. Independent media is playing a central role in ensuring citizens have access to reliable, accurate and updated news about the pandemic. Moreover, in a period when our citizens’ fundamental rights are being suspended, journalists are also acting as a key watchdog in maintaining public scrutiny and debate on the adequacy of government measures.
Unfortunately, at the same time, some governments in both EU member states and candidate countries have opportunistically taken advantage of emergency coronavirus legislation to push through restrictions which erode press freedom. While some of these measures have threatened press freedom unintentionally, others have been implemented knowingly. Likewise, while some curbs on fundamental rights may be necessary to combat the pandemic, those limiting media freedom are excessive.”
Signatories include Article 19, Committee to Protect Journalists, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, European Federation of Journalists, Free Press Unlimited, Index on Censorship, International Federation of Journalists and Reporters Without Borders.
Following the meeting, Jourova tweeted that freedom of speech and access to information are more important than ever.
Freedom of speech, access to information are more important than ever in crisis #COVID19, though journalists face pressure, threats
Call with media freedom organisations on further action & how EU-funded projects to support investigative journalists & provide legal aid can help pic.twitter.com/cmHm0OjEl3
— Věra Jourová (@VeraJourova) April 20, 2020