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07 May 2020

Parliamentarians Warn Of Increased Risks To Journalists During Pandemic

Parliamentarians have warned of increased risks to journalists and media freedom as oppressive regimes seek to use the coronavirus pandemic to silence reporting.

The All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Media Freedom wrote a joint letter to Foreign Office Minister Lord Ahmad ahead of World Press Freedom Day highlighting the threat to journalists during the pandemic.

Signed by chair of the Human Rights APPG Dame Diana Johnson MP and vice-chair of the Media Freedom APPG Lord Black of Brentwood, the letter said that lockdowns were "compounding pre-existing problems for the media sector."

The parliamentarians said: "As underlined last week by Reporters without Borders, and the 7 April statement, the Coronavirus pandemic has served to draw attention to, amplify and increase challenges to media freedom.

"The impact of these challenges has even been viewed as an existential threat, with Filipino journalist Maria Ressa reflecting that the Coronavirus crisis is a potential extinction event for journalists.

"As you are aware, Governments in many countries, including China, Hungary, Egypt, Turkmenistan, Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines, Algeria, Bolivia, India and Honduras, have adopted disproportionate and/or unnecessary measures to increase their control over information disseminated to the public and silence those who question the official line.

"These measures take various forms, such as legislative provisions on fake news, internet restrictions, limitations on journalists’ accreditation and access, and direct threats to journalists and whistleblowers.

"The chilling effect of such measures also fosters self-censorship."

In a statement for World Press Freedom Day, members of the Media Freedom Coalition called for states to take action to defend press freedom.

The coalition said: "The protection and promotion of a free, independent and diverse media, online as well as offline, is critical to the functioning of inclusive, peaceful and democratic societies. Journalists and media workers provide the public with critical information, broaden our view of the world, and help us hold individuals and institutions to account.

"As the world responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, these principles have seldom been more urgent or important. As recognised in the recent statement from the Executive Group of the Media Freedom Coalition, journalists and other media workers reporting from the front lines of this health crisis keep societies informed, promote proper health measures and counter false or misleading information. We commend their work.

"In times of crisis such as these, the role of a free press is more important than ever."

The parliamentarians said they were calling on the UK Government to issue strong stand-alone public statement on World Press Freedom Day recognising, among other things, the increased challenges to journalism and the financial sustainability of the news media industry.

The groups also called for an update on activities in connection with the UK’s on-going global campaign to defend media freedom and for the Government to call for countries to respect media freedom and protect the safety of journalists.

"Many Governments already recognised as opponents of media freedom, such as Turkey, Egypt, China and Saudi Arabia, continue to keep journalists locked up despite global calls for low-risk and vulnerable prisoners to be released immediately during the pandemic," the groups said.