International Press Institute (IPI) said the state of press freedom around the world has worsened with the spread of the Covid-19, as both autocratic and democratic governments are increasingly clamping down on the media.
The organisation made the remarks through a press statement on Friday.
According to the IPI statement, within months of spreading across the globe, the Covid-19 pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges to journalists and media outlets. Arrests, physical attacks and regressive fake news regulations have exacerbated an already difficult environment for the media.
An IPI special report, marking the World Press Freedom Day 2020, stated that in democratic as well as autocratic states the public health crisis has allowed governments to exercise control over the media on the pretext of preventing the spread of disinformation.
Emergency have been abused by authoritarian governments with an already poor press freedom record to further stifle independent media and criminalize journalism. But in democracies, too, efforts to control the public narrative and restrict access to information around the pandemic are on the rise.
From preventing critical media to attend official briefings on Covdi-19 to closing down media outlets and instituting surveillance that may have a long term impact on press freedom, governments are using every possible tactic to supress press freedom at a time when free flow of independent news is more essential than ever in this situation in informing the public on vital measures to contain the virus.
IPI's Covid-19 tracker has documented a total of 162 different press freedom violations related to the coronavirus over the past two and a half months. Almost a third of all violations monitored have involved the arrest, detention or charging of journalists reporting on the pandemic.
Globally, more than 50 cases of verbal and physical attacks against reporters while covering the coronavirus pandemic have been recorded.
More than 27 different cases of censorship have been documented, with a further 25 incidents of disproportionate restrictions on access to information.
IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said: "The data collected by IPI illustrate the risk – which in some places is already the reality – that states will take advantage of the health crisis to control the media message, in full disregard of the public's need for independent information."
"In covering the Covid-19 pandemic, journalists across the globe have found themselves confronted not only with the risk of contagion, but also with the threat of arrest, physical assault by security forces or criminal charges due to reporting on the virus. This has created an even more hostile environment for independent media,"
"It is crucial that these extraordinary restrictions on media imposed during the crisis do not become normalized and outlive the immediate health crisis, especially when it comes to lack of transparency by governments, lack of access by media to decision-makers and any form of surveillance hindering the press," she added.
"Meanwhile, pressure on media is only likely to get worse with the impending economic crisis, which is hitting small, independent media hardest", Trionfi remarked.
"In many countries, where these outlets are the only source of impartial news, additional economic strains will only deepen government's control over the press and lead to less checks and balances on their future attacks on the media."
The IPI executive director said that one of the most apparent trends observed was how many governments had abused the pandemic to strengthen their grip over the media through excessive regulations.
Killings of journalists continue
IPI data shows that since May 2019, 53 journalists have been killed in connection with their work. Thirty-two of those were murdered, with most of these targeted killings carried out by armed groups, state security forces, or organized crime.
Latin America continues to be the worst region in the world for journalists, where 20 journalists lost their lives in targeted attacks, with 10 in Mexico alone.
Armed conflicts and civil unrests claimed the lives of 14 journalists. Of these seven were killed in Syria and three were killed in Afghanistan, Chad and Yemen respectively, while covering armed conflicts. Two journalists were died in Iraq covering the civil unrest. A further six were killed while on assignment.
Investigations into targeted killings of journalists remain slow and deficient. As a result, no arrests have been made in many of these cases.
Positively, progress has been made in the trials of those suspected of murdering Slovak investigative reporter Ján Kuciak and fiancée Martina Kusnirova, the press release said.
Since 1997, IPI's Death Watch has tallied journalists deliberately targeted because of their profession and those who lost their lives while covering conflict or while on assignment.