Michelle Bachelet, the UN rights chief, has urged countries to do more to protect journalists, particularly during COVID-19 as their work saves lives.
Speaking at an event in Geneva, Bachelet noted that some 1000 journalists had been killed in the last 10 years, 90% of which remain unsolved.
She was joined at the event by political cartoonist Patrick Chapatte who spoke about the murder of 12 people at French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. He noted that Europe was not a safe place for journalists.
“We have seen five years ago a line being crossed in blood and that’s the line where you can get killed in Paris, Europe, anywhere, you can get killed for your opinion. And that was a new threshold.”
Bachelet continued that during the pandemic, the work of journalists is even more important. Their reporting is an essential tool for both officials and members of the public. She added that many countries have seen increasing politicisation of the pandemic with blame being placed on political opponents.
This resulted in threats, arrests, and smear campaigns against journalists who maintain fact-based information about the spread of the virus.
“When journalists are targeted in the context of protests and criticism, these attacks are intended to silence all of civil society and this is of deep concern…Journalism enriches our understanding of every kind of political, economic and social issue; delivers crucial – and, in the context of this pandemic – life-saving information; and helps keep governance at every level, transparent and accountable.”
During the pandemic in Albania, there have been several violations of press freedom. Journalist Sonila Meco was targeted by writer Mero Baze and an online hate mob following her criticism of one single doctor’s comments about Albanian nationals stuck at the border with Greece. The TV station that she works at, RTV Ora was also targeted by the government who tried to close it due to alleged COVID-19 protocol violations. The station has now been seized after the owner was accused of funding it through the proceeds of organised crime
Prime Minister Edi Rama was also criticised for a pre-recorded phone message that was played on all Vodafone customers mobiles, telling them to take precautions against COVID-19 including protecting themselves from the media.
Journalists also report struggling with transparency and access to information during the pandemic, more so than before.