Free press critical than ever in the fight against COVID-19

UNESCO in partnership with its member states celebrate the 27th World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) on 3 May 2020. A free press is more critical than ever as this year’s commemoration comes at a time when the world is facing a global pandemic, COVID-19. The press is positioned on the frontline in the fight against the distortion of truth by verifying facts and uncovering evidence during crises.

Globally, citizens are on lockdown eager for information. It is therefore the mandate of the press to provide truthful facts to avoid spreading fear, fake news and panic, as there is high potential for disinformation to spread.

UNESCO has also created a COVID-19 resource centre for the 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”.

The focus for WPFD 2020 is on successes in enhancing professional journalism and its foundation on independent news media institutions. All key stakeholders including governments, journalists and media, the judiciary and legal sector, internet businesses, civil society, academia and the youth should take action to secure independent journalism.

A free, pluralistic and independent media environment, both online and offline, is essential to upholding freedom of expression as a fundamental human right. It is a key element of any democratic society, and it is in line with Sustainable Development Goal 16.10, which recognizes society’s need for public access to information and fundamental freedoms.

When journalists are protected by the law, they can investigate, report and publish freely and professionally without being tied to the specific agendas of powerful elites or interest groups, and without fear of attack, then they can fulfil their democratic and developmental potential. They can hold power to account, promote transparency, disseminate quality information and contribute to an ethical, fact-based communications ecosystem.

In Southern Africa, online activities for WPFD include interviews, TV and radio discussions, webinars and online trainings among others.