Democracy stands or falls by its guarantee of freedom of expression and opinion and an independent press.
Two tragic events have thrown that statement into sharp relief: the global coronavirus pandemic and the murder of George Floyd in the USA.
Index on Censorship has been mapping attacks on media freedom related to the coronavirus crisis. Rachael Jolley, editor-in-chief, has noted “We are alarmed at the ferocity of some of the attacks on media freedom we are seeing being unveiled. In some states, journalists are threatened with prison sentences for reporting on shortages of vital hospital equipment. The public need to know this kind of life-saving information, not have it kept from them.”
Free Press Unlimited is calling for women to be seen and heard – especially during the ongoing pandemic. One of the key objectives of its current Gender Equality in the Media (GEM) programme is to ensure balanced and diverse representation of women. Covid-19 has highlighted the need to monitor how gender-sensitive is the content of news and information about the pandemic. Data from Women in Global Health (February 2020) indicate that for every three men quoted in media coverage of the Covid-19 outbreak, only one woman was quoted.
This finding is well known to the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) and the Global Alliance on Media and Gender (GAMAG), which have long called for the creation of databases of women experts for the media to draw on when it comes to matters of public concern.
In the USA, with the killing by police of George Floyd and the civil unrest that followed, attacks on press freedom have escalated with violent assaults on journalists, who have been shot at, tear-gassed, clubbed, shoved, and otherwise abused. Such actions suggest intentional targeting of the press.
Repeated claims of “fake news” and naming the press as “enemies of the state” by the current president have created a situation – it seems – in which many in law enforcement believe that “anything goes”. Yet, ordinary people have a right to be informed, to be given an unbiased and accurate picture of what is going on.
Whatever the crisis – Covid-19, police brutality, climate change – the press best serves the country when it serves its people, not the government. As The Washington Post proclaims, “Democracy dies in darkness”.
Photo above: A young woman wearing a mask and black lives matter t-shirt marching in a #BlackLivesMatter public demonstration in Cincinnati. Credit: Julian Wan/unsplash.com