COVID-19: Group calls for journalists’ safety, access to information

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The Group of Friends on the Safety and Protection of Journalists based in New York and Paris has called for the safety and protection of journalists and media workers across the world reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic.

This call was in reaction to the supposed increase in restriction of journalists by governments as part of measures taken to contain the spread of the virus.

The group notes that the restriction and journalists’ arrests, persecution and harassment have limited the right to freedom of expression and has impeded journalists’ and media workers’ from covering the pandemic.

According to a joint statement signed by the group, governments should ensure that journalists and media workers were safeguarded and must have unhindered access to information both online and offline, adding that state of emergency should not be the basis for constraint in their working environment.

It read in parts: “Free, independent and pluralistic media play an indispensable role in informing the public during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

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“Everyone has the right to comprehensible, accessible, timely and reliable information concerning the nature and level of the threat COVID-19 poses to their health, allowing them to follow evidence-based guidance on how to stay safe.

“Public health needs public trust. Trust is crucial to achieving adequate support for and compliance by the general public with efforts by governments to help curb the spread of the virus.

“Trust cannot be achieved without transparency and accountability provided and guaranteed by a free media. Conversely, free and independent media has an important role in pushing back against disinformation by providing access to accurate, fact-based and verified information. In this context, it is essential that governments and private entities address disinformation, foremost, by providing reliable information themselves.

“Governments should end any internet shutdowns, ensure the broadest possible access to internet services, and take steps to bridge digital divides, including the gender gap.”

The body, however, applauded initiatives and projects aimed at journalists’ and media workers’ safety by international bodies and media organisations.