This year World Press Freedom Day came while much of the world is under lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and unfortunately in many countries, the pandemic has become an excuse to tighten controls on media.
Voice of America marked the day by releasing a new map cataloguing related attacks on press freedom around the world. The map highlights cases, by country, of journalists detained, attacked, denied access to briefings, or accused of publishing “false news,” as well as cases of news outlets censored or suspended, either by government decree or due to the pandemic’s economic impact. VOA covered calls from the U.N. Secretary General and various global press freedom organizations to governments around the world to guarantee journalists’ safety so they can continue to report during the pandemic, a time when transparency is essential and misinformation and conspiracy theories are on the rise.
The network also featured reports on the challenges of covering the pandemic and its impact on press freedom from around the world, including Algeria, Cambodia, Chechnya, Singapore, Somalia, Tajikistan, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, West Africa, and Africa more generally.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty released a map featuring a timeline of governments throughout the world cracking down on journalists covering COVID-19 and detailed challenges faced by some of its own reporters and editors working in countries where authorities are increasingly moving to restrict freedom of the press. RFE/RL also featured a video explaining how Russian authorities are using the new “Fake News” Law to curtail coverage of the pandemic in the country and the myriad related challenges that Russia faces, while Steve Gutterman discussed the challenges faced by Russian journalists in his The Week Ahead in Russia podcast.
Radio Free Asia ran an editorial by Bay Fang, the President of the network, discussing the centrality of free speech and accurate journalism during a pandemic, and showcasing how RFA is helping provide much-needed reporting that many in Asia rely on these days.
Radio and Television Martí covered World Press Freedom Day statements from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who called for the release of imprisoned journalists, and from the U.S. Embassy in Havana, which emphasized the importance of independent media, particularly during the pandemic. The network also reported on an open letter from several press freedom organizations calling on the Cuban government to respect the freedom of speech and end its censorship of reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.