The United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has accused some political leaders of creating a hostile environment for the media, compromising the safety and ability of journalists to do their job.
In a statement given this week, she said that “credible, accurate reporting is a lifeline for us all” and that it 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,” Bachelet added.
During the global Coronavirus pandemic, the UN noted that against the backdrop of restrictive measures against independent media, journalists and media workers were being arrested and intimidated. Bachelet expressed alarm over clampdowns which she said are stifling the free flow of information which is vital in getting the pandemic under control.
“Some states have used the outbreak of the new coronavirus as a pretext to restrict information and stifle criticism. 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,” she said.
The International Press Institute has recorded more than 130 violations of basic press freedom including 50 reported instances of restrictions on access to information, censorship and excessive regulation of misinformation. In addition to this, some 40 journalists have been arrested or charged in Asia-Pacific, the Americas, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Their crime was writing critical stories on government responses to the pandemic or daring to question the accuracy of official data.
The IPI said the actual number of arrests and violations is probably far higher.
UN human rights spokesperson Rupert Colville said that leaders who criticise journalists are often those who have previously behaved in a similar way- refusing to tolerate any criticism of their policies.
“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”, the UN human rights chief said. “Protecting journalists from harassment, threats, detention or censorship helps keep us all safe,” added Bachelet.
She concluded that governments should welcome transparency as this builds public trust and allows people to ensure they participate in measures designed to protect their own health.