Independent journalistic work and news coverage play a crucial role in pandemics like the Coronavirus crisis we are currently facing. While we recognise the importance of stringent measures to safeguard public health, we, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), call on European leaders not to exploit emergency measures to legitimise restrictions on press and media freedom in any way.
Journalists’ access to information must be guaranteed in all cases and by all means. When access to relevant press conferences needs to be controlled in order to comply with the rules of social distancing, the representation of media outlets and journalists must be fair and proportionate and not be linked to any political preference. Alternative access must be equally available, for example by live-streaming or video conference. The corona crisis must not be misused to discredit or smear critical journalists and their reporting.
The free flow of information to the public must be guaranteed, while at the same time disinformation about the virus needs to be countered by trustworthy news coverage:
“In these times of Corona, disinformation can kill people”, says Lutz Kinkel, ECPMF’s Managing Director. “State actors must not misuse the corona crisis to disseminate ideological spins or introduce censorship to whitewash the situation in their countries. Independent professional journalism, transparency of sources and accurate, fact-checked information are the best weapons to combat the pandemic. To protect the lives of their people, governments must put in place a credible and trustworthy information policy and foster instead of limiting the scrutiny of free media.”
Protection of freelancers needed
To enable the free flow of information the safety and protection of journalists during the corona outbreak must also be guaranteed. Particular attention must be paid to non-standard workers (including freelance journalists), who are facing economic difficulties in this unprecedented time.
ECPMF and its partner organisations will rigorously monitor threats and press freedom violations in the upcoming weeks of the pandemic. Please submit alerts to mappingmediafreedom.org, ECPMF and partners will verify and publish them.