The impact of coronavirus on media freedom

Briefing 08-05-2020

Media freedom has increasingly come under the spotlight in recent years. In its 2019 report on media freedom, Freedom House argued that media freedom around the world was coming under growing threat both in democratic and non-democratic countries, whilst in its 2020 edition of the World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) argue that the next decade will be pivotal in ensuring the preservation of media freedom. This threat to media freedom is often attributed to the recent rise of populist and authoritarian governments, with many world-leaders – including leaders of major democracies – increasingly seeming to view free media as an opponent, rather than a fundamental aspect of a free society. The knock-on effects of such actions can be grave, particularly given the important role that a free media plays in upholding democracy and democratic freedoms. Media freedom and pluralism are part of the rights and principles enshrined in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and in the European Convention on Human Rights. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to have significant ramifications for public health, social welfare and the economy, the crisis also presents a significant threat to media freedom. Media freedom proponents have warned that governments across the world could use the coronavirus emergency as a pretext for the implementation of new, draconian restrictions on free expression, as well as to increase press censorship. In many countries, the crisis has been exploited for just such reasons, with political leaders using it as a justification for additional restrictions on media freedom. In its 2020 World Press Freedom Index, RSF argues that certain governments have used the crisis to impose media restrictions that in ordinary times would be impossible. The Council of Europe (CoE) Platform for the Protection of Journalists has warned that the fresh assault on media freedom amid the Covid 19 pandemic has worsened an already gloomy media freedom outlook.