From: Alice Taylor
MFRR: Illiberal Politicians Abused Pandemic to Demonize Journalists and Media Workers

A group of international media freedom organizations has submitted several recommendations to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding COVID-19 and how to increase the safety of journalists and media workers.

The groups involved are the ECPMF, ARTICLE 19, Free Press Unlimited, and OBV Transeuropa, as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response.

The submission states that through their monitoring, they have observed a significant negative impact of COVID-19 on media freedom, frequently related to government measures taken in response to the pandemic. This is on top of the direct health risks journalists face when carrying out their work in a pandemic.

“Between 1 March 2020 and 28 February 2021, we registered 107 alerts (involving 197 attacked persons or media entities) in 20 European countries related to COVID-19. This means that more than 1 out of 4 incidents of media freedom violations we documented during this period in the region were related to COVID,” they rewrote.

Almost 30% of reported violations were physical attacks, and almost 60% were verbal threats. It stated that protests against government COVID-19 measures have proven to be a significant threat to journalists and media worker’s safety. 

“Widespread protests have led to a steep deterioration of the safety of journalists all across Europe since the pandemic started. The COVID-19 pandemic and governments’ responses to it have driven an increase in protests across Europe. Demonstrations, in general, are a complex and challenging working situation for journalists and media workers, who have been increasingly at risk of verbal and physical attacks while covering protests. 4 Threats emerge from a range of different actors, including demonstrators, as well as police officers or security services charged with maintaining the peace.”

A worrying trend of attacks by law enforcement was observed across the bloc. 

“Too often, police officers and other law enforcement personnel perceive journalists and media workers as an enemy or obstacle, or no different than protestors. This can result in disproportionate restrictions on access, threats of detention or arrest, or at times, physical attacks.”

The organizations said that the declining safety of journalists in Europe is partly due to politicians with “illiberal views” who have “abused the pandemic to demonize journalists and media workers, feeding into and exacerbating a climate of hostility and mistrust.

The Media Freedom Rapid Response makes the following recommendations:

  • States must improve the safety of journalists and media workers covering demonstrations, and protect them from physical violence, intimidation and harassment by protestors and law enforcement;
  • State entities should ensure there are no undue barriers for media actors to access policy-makers, information, documents, and other sources;
  • Public authorities and political leaders should refrain from demonizing the press and instead publicly condemn and adequately address attacks, intimidation, and harassment of journalists and media workers and other threats to media freedom;
  • Measures taken by governments to address the COVID-19 pandemic must comply with international human rights law requirements, and state actors should not abuse them to attack journalists and media workers or to obstruct their work; 
  • States should refrain from reliance on criminal prosecution and other coercive measures as a primary means of combating dis/misinformation about the spread of COVID-19; 
  • States should administer economic support for recovery in a fair, equal, and transparent manner