COVID-19 / World Press Freedom Day: ‘We need free and independent media, now more than ever’

On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, Rik Daems, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), has recalled the vital role of journalists and the media in a democratic society.

“In the age of misinformation and propaganda, professional and reliable journalism is essential to ensure that citizens have all the information they need to make clear and informed choices without being manipulated,” he said.

“The indispensable role of the press is being confirmed on a daily basis during the current COVID-19 crisis,” he said. “The media are doing a tremendous job of informing, enlightening and analysing. The authorities should see them as allies for more effective collective action and aid their work,” the President added.

“However, since the beginning of the current crisis, media freedom has faced new threats in some of our member States. Several governments seem to want to take advantage of the crisis to strengthen their grip on communication and management of the information that citizens can receive. They are intervening to shape media coverage in order to avoid opinions unfavourable to their actions, arguing that these would be detrimental to public order. Journalists who remain critical expose themselves to physical assault, online harassment, police investigations, judicial harassment and political and economic pressure,” he pointed out.

“Moreover, the pandemic has served as a pretext for some governments to pass emergency legislation that restricts fundamental freedoms, including freedom of information, with the double risk that these restrictions go beyond what is really necessary to address the crisis and that they are maintained over time beyond what is strictly required. The consequences of such an approach could be serious for press freedom and, consequently, for our democracies,” the President warned.

“Our member States have an obligation to protect media freedom and the safety of journalists. We have a duty to firmly remind them of this, and to respond quickly and effectively to any attacks on the safety of journalists and press freedom. The Council of Europe has a very effective and reliable tool, which issues alerts whenever there are threats to press freedom and helps our member States to solve the reported problems. I refer, of course, to the Platform to Enhance the Protection of Journalism and the Safety of Journalists, which operates through 14 press freedom organisations: I thank these loyal partners for their excellent work and unwavering vigilance,” Daems added.

“As we celebrate World Press Freedom Day, I pay warm tribute to all journalists who carry out their work despite threats and pressure, despite difficult economic and psychological conditions, and today despite the risks to their health. They are the eyes, ears and voice of the people. And we, as citizens and elected representatives, are and remain at their side,” concluded the President.