(CoE / Red) – In a statement issued ahead of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić calls on governments to avoid unduly restricting media freedom during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Governments are facing unprecedented challenges during the COVID-19 crisis, but the situation must not be used to silence or hinder journalists”, said the Secretary General.
“Media must be free to report on all aspects of the crisis. Journalists have a key role and a special responsibility for providing timely, accurate and reliable information to the public. They must be able to scrutinise the decisions of authorities in response to the pandemic.
Through responsible reporting, journalists can also help prevent panic from spreading and highlight positive examples of solidarity in our societies. I have been personally impressed and encouraged by the many media reports I have seen of citizens helping each other and of carers, nurses and other ‘heroes’ on the frontline of this crisis.”
The Secretary General also expressed her concern at the findings of the annual report of the Council of Europe’s Platform for the Protection of Journalism and the Safety of Journalists, compiled by 14 media freedom NGOs, highlighting a trend of violence and intimidation against journalists over the last year.
“Unfortunately, the worrying trend of violence and intimidation against journalists observed in recent years continues. Too many journalists are in prison and there are too many cases of impunity for the killing of journalists. I am also aware of the difficult economic situation that many journalists find themselves in today”, she said.
The Secretary General encouraged member states to protect the role of journalists as “watchdogs” and as an important part of the necessary checks and balances in democratic societies. The 2020 annual report of the Platform for the Protection of Journalism and the Safety of Journalists, published by 14 international NGOs, lists 142 serious threats to journalists in the 47 Council of Europe member states. This includes 33 physical attacks against journalists, 17 new cases of detention and imprisonment, 43 cases of harassment and intimidation and two new cases of impunity for murder.
The NGOs express concern over a total of 22 pending cases of impunity for the killing of journalists and state that at least 105 journalists were in prison by the end of 2019.