Global initiative to monitor attacks on the media during coronavirus 

Index on Censorship and the Justice for Journalists Foundation (JFJ) have joined forces and come together to set up a project that monitors and catalogues attacks and violations against the media specifically related to the coronavirus health crisis.

“In our daily work in the post-Soviet region, Justice for Journalists Foundation experts and partners come across grave violations of media freedom and media workers’ human rights. Today, we are witnessing how the corrupt governments and businessmen in many of the regional autocracies are abusing the current limitations of public scrutiny,” JFJ Director Maria Ordzhonikidze said.

This major decrease in civil liberties allowed governments to continue pursuing their interests in a less transparent manner while media workers striving to unveil murky practices are facing more risks than ever before,” she said.

These violations will be recorded on a map hosted on Index on Censorship and on the Justice for Journalists Media Risk Map.

The project has three main objectives: the first is to increase awareness about the importance of media freedom at this particular point in time. The second is to support journalists whose work is being hindered by highlighting their challenges to an international audience and, finally, to continue to improve media freedom globally in the long term.

Justice for Journalists Foundation will contribute to the joint project by expanding cooperation with its existing regional partners in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

Index on Censorship will use the experience it has gained running other mapping projects to gather and compare media violations in each country and further analyse the data when the global crisis is over.

It has been just over a week that Index on Censorship and Justice for Journalists Foundation started collecting data and already the numbers of journalists from all over the world reporting to the map are on the increase.

Index on Censorship has already expressed concerns about the number of incidents showing how governments are using this extraordinary health crisis as an excuse to roll back personal and media freedom.

A few examples include Hungary’s Prime Minister Victor Orban, who has proposed a Bill introducing emergency legislation that gives him the power to rule by decree with a significant detail that outlines how these powers could be used against those who publicise “false or distorted facts” that alarm or agitate the public, with a punishment of up to five years in prison.

Meanwhile, in Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has issued a provisional measure which means that the government no longer has to answer freedom of information requests within the usual deadline.

In South Africa, the government has stopped epidemiologists, virologists, infectious disease specialists and other experts from commenting in the media on Covid-19 and insists that all requests for comment be directed to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

If the legislations are not reversed at the end of the crisis, many of these incidents will have long term consequences.

Strong media freedom is essential during this time. It is at the heart of helping tackle a fast-moving crisis, it must hold governments accountable if their actions threaten the safety of their people and it remains vital in finding out where help is needed and in telling people’s stories.

For those who want more information or wish to contribute to this initiative by providing information on incidents email: [email protected] or [email protected]

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