Protection of media freedom crucial now more than ever

 By Lisa Stadelbauer

COVID-19 has radically changed the lives of each and every one of us over the past few months. At a time when we are faced with uncertainty, it’s more important than ever that we have access to credible and accurate information in order to keep us, and our family and friends, safe and healthy.

During COVID-19 and every day, journalists play an essential role in defending and advancing the truth around the world. They keep us informed, they put the spotlight on challenges and issues that we may otherwise not see, and they hold governments (and other important players in society) accountable.

But effective journalism only happens when journalists have the freedom, independence, and tools to do their work freely and independently. Here in East Africa, as well as elsewhere on the continent and around the world, this is not always the case.

On 16 November this year, Canada and Botswana will co-host the second Global Conference for Media Freedom. The pandemic means that it will be held virtually, but that also offers new opportunities for engagement and participation.

Unfortunately, abuses of the right to freedom of opinion and expression continue to happen and the pandemic is now posing a major threat to not only global public health, but also to media freedom. In many cases, restrictions and abuses against members of the press have intensified as a result of the pandemic.

So far this year, the International Press Institute (IPI) has recorded 140 instances globally of media freedom violations related to the COVID-19 pandemic and Reporters Without Borders has documented attacks against at least 125 journalists in 29 countries.  This is unacceptable.

BASIC HUMAN RIGHT 

Canada views the freedom of opinion and expression as a basic human right. Media freedom serves a fundamental public interest, and journalists and media workers should not be intimidated, harassed, or threatened in their efforts to obtain and disseminate information which is of public interest.

In growing recognition of the challenges and threats faced by media workers and to counter these new and emerging challenges, we have joined forces with other countries to protect and promote freedom of opinion and expression.

In July 2019, Canada and the United Kingdom co-hosted the first Global Conference for Media Freedom.  It brought together governments, journalists, activists, and other stakeholders to discuss and strategize on this topic. At the same time, Canada and the UK also formed the Media Freedom Coalition, a partnership of 37 countries from around the world (including Ghana and Sudan here in Africa), who advocate for media freedom, online as well as offline, and for the safety of journalists and media workers. This includes through mechanisms like the Global Media Defence Fund which supports journalists in distress, covers legal expenses and initiatives, creates peer support networks, and supports governments to develop national action plans.

On 16 November this year, Canada and Botswana will co-host the second Global Conference for Media Freedom. The pandemic means that it will be held virtually, but that also offers new opportunities for engagement and participation.

To journalists in Somalia and around the world, Canada says this: thank you for seeking out the truth, for bringing clarity and fairness to public debate, and for giving us the information that we need to be safe in these difficult times.

Together with our partners, we will develop collaborative and innovative approaches to counter challenges to media freedom and to strengthen protections for journalists, the freedom of expression, and human rights around the world.

 The author is the Ambassador of Canada to Somalia and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

 

 

 

 

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