UNESCO Beirut and UNIC celebrate World Press Freedom Day and highlight the risks faced by reporters in Lebanon in covering the COVID-19 pandemic

As the novel coronavirus has exacerbated the already dire socio-economic conditions in Lebanon, reporters and journalists in Lebanon saw themselves facing double the work, as the Lebanese government grapples to manage its deteriorating economy and financial crisis on top of its response to COVID-19 and its prevention. Reporters are now in the field covering popular demonstrations and rallies by people protesting their compounding livelihoods, who at most times are not respecting the safety measures required for protection from coronavirus.

A free and independent press is always essential. In crises such as the current pandemic, reliable information saves lives. The UN in Lebanon is committed to supporting independent and professional journalism, especially at critical times like the COVID-19 context.

Against this backdrop, and on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day (3 May), UNESCO Beirut and UNIC Beirut joined efforts to launch a social media challenge #JournalistsSafetyIsYourSafety. The two-day challenge, taken by 15 renown journalists and reporters, entailed that they recount in a short velfie or video one challenge they are facing in their work amid COVID-19, and challenge their colleagues in the field, whether in Lebanon or the Arab world, to do the same. The videos were promoted on the social media platforms of all UN agencies in Lebanon, an effort coordinated with the UNCG group in Lebanon.

Like most reporters and journalists, Halima Tabiaa from Al Jadeed TV cherishes freedom of expression, but is facing fears of contracting the virus and transmitting it to her husband, children and parents. “The biggest challenge I am facing now amid COVID-19 and the popular protests is to be able to earn a living by relaying the news in a free and transparent way, but without contracting the virus and transmitting it to my loved ones,” she said.

For Wassim Oraby from state-run Tele Liban, the challenge of journalists on this day is the freedom of expression and freedom of speech. “I hope journalism will remain free,” he said, as he accepted the challenge from his colleague at the TV station.

While disabled reporters also share similar challenges, they do -on top of that- bear the brunt of the lack of eligible services allowing them access to basic needs in Lebanon. “The lack of an eligible environment hampers my work whenever I want to be in the field advocating for the rights of the disabled. On this occasion, I do hope that the media will be more inclusive, and access to communications and technology will be without any obstacles to allow me to carry out my daily work,” said Sylavana Lakkis in her velfie.

In addition to those challenges, other reporters such as Alain Dargham from MTV mentioned the security risks he faced while covering riots in the northern city of Tripoli, especially when they turned into violent clashes between rioters and the Lebanese Armed Forces. Dargham also referred to the challenge of convincing protesters to exercise physical distancing and wear protective equipment.