Press freedom violation trends are no longer localised so journalists need to rethink what solidarity means in fighting attacks against journalists, said Tabani Moyo, MISA Zimbabwe director.
“Our best shield is the strength of solidarity,” Moyo said.
He was speaking at a UNESCO online panel on May 7 where he, Nadine Hoffman the deputy director of the International Women’s Media Foundation, Courtney Radsch advocacy director at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Ana Cristina Ruelas, the regional director at ARTICLE 19 for Mexico and Central America spoke about journalists’ safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Violence does not stop because of the quarantine,” Ruelas, a Mexican native said.
The Reporters Without Borders 2020 World Press Freedom Index described Mexico as “one of the world’s deadliest countries for the media”.
It added that complicity between officials and organised crime “poses a grave threat to journalists’ safety and cripples the judicial system at all levels”.
Moyo said fragile states have “striking similarities” where those in power want to tighten their grip to consolidate power in the executive.
He spoke about the wave in southern Africa where some member states have introduced false news regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Zimbabwe, those found guilty of “prejudicing the State’s enforcement of
the national lockdown” can be fined up to “level fourteen or imprisonment for a period not exceeding twenty years or both,” according to the country’s regulation.
Radsch said there has been an uptick in false information laws around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic that essentially criminalises news that does not corroborate the information that authorities have.
Egypt expelled Guardian reporter Ruth Michaelson in March after she wrote an article suggesting the country had more coronavirus cases than initially reported.
The country has also blocked or limited access to a dozen news websites and social media accounts since early March for spreading “rumours” about the pandemic, RSF reported.
This form of censorship in Egypt is not new as “500 websites have been blocked since the summer of 2017,” added RSF’s World Press Freedom Index.
Egypt is also one of the worst jailers of journalists in the world, according to the latest CPJ data on imprisonment.
Under their #FreeThePress campaign, CPJ and over 80 media and advocacy organisations banded together to send a letter to African heads of state, urging them to release jailed journalists “at this time of grave public health concern”.
At the panel, Hoffman specifically brought attention to Egyptian journalist Solafa Sallam who has been imprisoned since November 2019. Sallam was charged with supporting a terrorist group and spreading false news, according to Amnesty International.
Hoffman said the last time Sallam's family was granted access to her was March 9 and that she was in poor health at the time.
The health and safety of journalists have been exacerbated in the pandemic as journalists not only face physical threats while working as essential workers but risk acquiring the coronavirus while on the frontlines.
Guilherme Canela, the chief of the section for Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists at UNESCO gave the opening remarks and said this year’s World Press Freedom Day “felt different to previous ones”.
UNESCO’s Journalism, press freedom and COVID-19 report mentions the difficulties journalists face while working on the frontlines where their jobs are not safe from the scourge of the pandemic, despite it being a time where journalism is needed most.
“If this isn’t a perfect storm, I don’t know what is,” Canela said.