Council of Europe Comissioner for Human Rights (@CoE) Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic welcomed DW’s decision to dedicate the Freedom of Speech Award 2020 “to the courageous journalists who keep on doing their job despite the mounting pressure they are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
However, this came at a price. Under the pretext of combating disinformation that may cause panic and social unrest, some governments in Europe and beyond have clamped down on the press. Some emergency legislation, decrees or decisions have clearly hampered the work of journalists and media professionals and risk scaring potential sources into silence. In some countries, there have been cases of journalists who have been arrested or forced to promote the official government line on the pandemic. Some journalists have also been attacked, physically or verbally.
“Journalists need our support more than ever”
This year’s celebration of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May therefore acquires a special meaning. Today, as in other cases in the past, journalists worldwide are engaged in a struggle not only against the COVID-19 pandemic, but also against the pandemic of propaganda, disinformation and intolerance against the press that has been on-going for decades.
I therefore welcome your decision to dedicate this year’s Deutsche Welle Freedom of Speech Award to those courageous journalists who keep on doing their job despite the mounting pressure they are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic. I join my voice in calling for the release of all journalists who have been arrested for the views they expressed, and I call on all European governments to lift the disproportionate restrictions imposed on the press and media professionals.
Democracies need a free and safe press, all the more so in times of crisis. At the same time, journalists too need our support more than ever. We must not let them down. We must support a free, independent and safe press.
In a May 6 interview with DW journalist Lavinia Pitu, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights stressed the importance of diversity of opinion and her office’s support for media freedom. Mijatovic: “If there is an immediate lesson to learn from the #COVID19 , it is that free and quality journalism is a crucial asset of democracy.”
Earlier this month, DW published a guest commentary by Dunja Mijatovic on the perils of surveillance during a global health crisis.