Media outlets and journalists have noted 620 press freedom violations while doing their job reporting on the pandemic. Physical and verbal attacks on journalists were the highest in Europe, International Press Institute’s Freedom Tracker shows.
According to IPI, 34% of the total were about physical and verbal attacks on journalists, while 33.5% were about the arrests of journalists or charges filed against journalists and media organizations by governments. Some 14% of all the cases of violations relate to restrictions on access to information imposed by the governments.
“An alarming number of physical and verbal attacks on journalists were recorded in Europe. A total 106 cases of attacks have been registered, of which more than 80% were by members of the public”, IPI said.
“A recent IPI briefing on Europe lists Hungary, Romania, Spain, Turkey, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina as countries where new emergency restrictions or limitations on access to information threatened to impede media freedom. Turkey, which currently has 64 journalists in prison, refused to heed calls by human rights organizations to release them despite the threat of infection in prison.”
The highest number of violations related to arrests and charges were in the Asia-Pacific region.
The data clearly illustrate the pandemic’s impact on the exercise of journalism around the world, IPI said.
FOUR SOUTH ASIAN COUNTRIES
Nearly 200 violations linked to the pandemic were reported from the Asia-Pacific region, of which 107 were from four South Asian countries: Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Nepal. 71 journalists faced arrests and charges for their coverage of the pandemic and its consequences in those countries, while 32 cases of physical attacks and verbal threats were reported.
With 84 cases, India accounted for the greatest number of violations in the region. 56 journalists were arrested or charged under various laws, and 23 journalists came under verbal and physical attack.
Africa ranks second in terms of arrests and charges against journalists and media outlets. In the Americas region, 117 violations were recorded, of which 31 cases were of verbal or physical attacks on journalists. Venezuela and Honduras were among the top countries in terms of press freedom violations.
PREVENTING MEDIA REPORTS
“While some governments acknowledged that journalists and media outlets play a critical role in disseminating necessary information to help contain the crisis, many states imposed excessive measures that created impediments, preventing the media from reporting about the increasing number of cases and the shortcomings in official responses”, IPI said.
“China, where the first cases of COVID-19 were reported, led the way in clamping down on the coverage of the pandemic. The government targeted independent reporters and citizen journalists who had exposed the extent of the infection. Many citizen journalists were detained, and the country also expelled foreign correspondents from leading international news organizations. It also suppressed critical social media posts and restricted access to foreign news by blocking VPNs in the country.
“As part of efforts to contain the virus, states introduced new surveillance measures, including the tracking of mobile phones, the use of track-and-trace apps and the expanded use of facial recognition,” IPI said.