Global press freedom suffers under coronavirus pandemic, report warns

CasPhotography/iStockBy GUY DAVIES

(LONDON) — The coronavirus pandemic is having a serious impact on press freedom worldwide as authoritarian leaders have taken advantage of the public health crisis, a new report has said.

The 2020 World Press Freedom Index, compiled by the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF), warned that the next 10 years would be pivotal for the future of journalism across the globe.

“The public health crisis provides authoritarian governments with an opportunity to implement the notorious “shock doctrine” – to take advantage of the fact that politics are on hold, the public is stunned and protests are out of the question, in order to impose measures that would be impossible in normal times,” Chrisophe Deloire, the secretary-general of RSF, said in a statement. “For this decisive decade to not be a disastrous one, people of goodwill, whoever they are, must campaign for journalists to be able to fulfil their role as society’s trusted third parties, which means they must have the capacity to do so.”

The Index is compiled by assessing the levels of independence and censorship, legal systems in which media outlets work in individual regions and countries.

RSF said that there was a “clear correlation” between the suppression of independent media in the pandemic and a country’s ranking in the Index.

Norway ranked as the freest country in the world for the fourth year running.

North Korea fell one place to 180th, the lowest ranking on the Index, taking that position from Turkmenistan despite the country going as far as to ban the word “coronavirus” from the Turkmen vocabulary.

China, the origin of the coronavirus outbreak, ranked at 177th, have censored the extent of their public health crisis, the report said, as the country continued to maintain a system of “hyper-control” on information and press freedom.

The United States, meanwhile, climbed three places up the ranking, but RSF said that press freedom “continued to suffer” during the third year of President Donald Trump’s tenure in office, pointing out the fact that the last televised White House press briefing led by a press secretary came in March 2019.

The unprecedented global lockdown to combat the spread of coronavirus has seen some leaders sense an opportunity to strengthen their powers, such as in Hungary, where last month lawmakers gave Prime Minister Victor Orban the power to rule by decree as long as he sees fit.

The “global indicator” of press freedom improved slightly from last year’s index, but RSF said that overall, media freedom has deteriorated by 12% since the first Index of its kind was compiled in 2013.

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