Press freedom faces more curbs due to Covid-19, says watchdog

By Luis Miguel Pascual

Paris, Apr 21 (EFE).- The Covid-19 outbreak has amplified threats to press freedom because the health crisis has given authoritarian rulers a chance to implement otherwise impossible “shock doctrine” measures, according to a media watchdog report released on Tuesday.

The Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) annual press freedom index has warned that authoritarian government would exploit the disaster situation to impose questionable policies since people across the world are unlikely to resist as they are emotionally as well as physically distracted.

“The public health crisis provides authoritarian governments with an opportunity to implement the notorious ‘shock doctrine’ – to take advantage of the fact that politics are on hold, the public is stunned and protests are out of the question, to impose measures that would be impossible in normal times,” RSF chief Christophe Deloire said.

This latest edition of the press freedom index has suggested that the next 10 years would be pivotal for press freedom “because of converging crises affecting the future of journalism”.

The report said aggressiveness of authoritarian regimes, polarization and repressive policies, suspicion and hatred for media and a lack of democratic guarantees in the use of technology would pose more challenges to the press freedom in the next decade.

“For this decisive decade to not be a disastrous one, people of goodwill, whoever they are, must campaign for journalists to be able to fulfill their role as society’s trusted third parties, which means they must have the capacity to do so,” Deloire said.

The report said both China (177th) and Iran (down 3 at 173rd) censored their major coronavirus outbreaks extensively, highlighting “a clear correlation between suppression of media freedom in response to the coronavirus pandemic”.

Even in Europe, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary (down 2 at 89th), had a “coronavirus” law passed with penalties of up to five years in prison for false information, a completely disproportionate and coercive measure.

Nordic countries have once again dominated the classification of world press freedom by the RSF. Norway has topped the index for the fourth consecutive year.

North Korea is at the bottom of the list.

Finland is at the second spot, Denmark at the third with Sweden and the Netherlands at the fourth and fifth respectively.

The “global indicator” – the watchdog’s measure of the level of global media freedom – has improved slightly in the 2020 Index, by 0.9 percent.

However, it has deteriorated by 12 percent since RSF created this measure in 2013.

The proportion of countries that are colored white on the press freedom map, meaning the press freedom situation is “good”, is unchanged at eight percent.

However, the percentage of countries colored black, meaning the situation is “very bad”, has increased by two points to 13 percent.

The report also pointed out the continuing deterioration in some of the democracies like the United States (up 3 at 45th) and Brazil (down 2 at 107th).

The democratically elected presidents, Donald Trump, and Jair Bolsonaro, “continue to denigrate the media and encourage hatred of journalists in their respective countries”.

“The ‘hate cabinet’ surrounding the Brazilian leader orchestrates large-scale online attacks on journalists who expose government secrets. President Bolsonaro has stepped up his attacks on the media since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, blaming them for ‘hysteria’ and panic,” the RSF report said.

RSF denounced Saudi Arabia and Egypt as the world’s biggest jailers of journalists.

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