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Network / Meedan recognizes World Press Freedom Day
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As global journalism grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of challenges to press freedom remain. But the crisis also presents an opportunity to reimagine media in a post COVID-19 world. In time with World Press Fredom Day, we are launching our Check Global Network, our community for non-profits and collectives working in the area of independent media and information and communication technologies (ICTs) in emerging economies.

With our mission to support global journalism, Meedan cares deeply about press freedom around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about challenges we’ve been monitoring and writing about through our Checklist newsletter. Some of the trends we’ve seen are deeply concerning:

Journalists are on the frontlines of the pandemic

Journalists have been on the frontlines reporting the pandemic in different regions. Reporters have been going to hospitals and other hotspots where the risk of exposure to the virus and infection is very high. Several media outlets do not have or cannot provide proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for their staff. According to the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), there is risk of the pandemic impacting journalists’ physical health and psychological well-being.

Media jobs are facing historic losses

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only exposed media workers to physical vulnerabilities, it has also decimated an already battered media sector, with many companies reducing hours, holding back salaries or simply sacking their media staff outright, according to the South Asia Press Freedom Report. Shrinking revenue from advertisements, serious disruptions in circulation of newspapers and printed publications and a severe strain on limited revenues have resulted in a job crisis where reporters and journalists across the world are experiencing pay cuts, reduced hiring and layoffs.

Democracies are undermining press freedom

Over the last two and a half months, the International Press Institute’s (IPI) COVID-19 tracker has documented a total of 162 different press freedom violations related to the coronavirus. These range from verbal or physical attacks on journalists to arrests, restrictions on access to information and media censorship. This has created a hostile and challenging environment for independent media and press freedom. Several agencies also note that the current pandemic has given states an opportunity to exercise greater control over the media. IPI has also documented 16 cases of ‘fake news’ laws either being passed with disproportionate penalties or used to take down content about the virus online. IPI notes that while some of these laws are sincere but ill-conceived, others appear to deliberately strengthen authoritarian regimes’ arsenal against the press.

Local journalism is under threat

During a pandemic, people need timely, reliable and unbiased news on local conditions, however, the absence of sustainable and robust business models and distribution networks for local news is making that increasingly difficult. These newsrooms will have to make strategic shifts in their business models in order to survive the pandemic.

Journalists grapple with misinformation during a pandemic

In times of a global pandemic, access to accurate and unbiased information about the disease becomes ever more important. It is critical for the media to share verified and reliable information. However, the widespread use of social media and other platforms to share unverified information, often without scientific proof, can be dangerous and life threatening in the current situation. UN chief António Guterres noted that “the global ‘misinfo-demic’ is spreading,” using a word coined by Meedan researchers. UNESCO is promoting two social media campaigns “to fight the infodemic of rumours and disinformation”. UNESCO has also created a COVID- 19 resource centre for media. This online platform aims to help journalists track false information regarding the pandemic and report on the crisis reliably and effectively, as encouraged by the theme of World Press Freedom Day 2020, “journalism without fear or favour”.

At the same time, as Meedan board member Maria Ressa wrote recently, “The mission of independent journalism has never been as important as it is today, when decisions are being made without transparency. Now more than ever, facts matter. Truth matters. Checks and balances matter.” It’s vital that those working for media freedom around the world come together to re-envision what this can look like.

In time with World Press Freedom Day, Meedan is thrilled to launch our Check Global Network. The network is Meedan’s community that brings together non-profits and collectives working in the area of independent media and information and communication technologies (ICTs) in the emerging economies of Asia-Pacific (APAC), East Africa, Latin America (LATAM), and the North Africa Western Asia region (NAWA).

Our partners from different regions will participate in the launch of the Check Global Network this week. The network will provide its members access to opportunities and forums for sharing, learning and reflection. The main activities will focus on capacity building of members on journalism, fact-checking and organizational development, providing them access to digital tools and the opportunity to be part of a growing impactful community.

● Related

The Checklist–read misinformation news from around the world

The Weekly Roundup

—open-source investigations, industry resources and event information