Lusaka, 03 May 2020: Today on World Press Freedom Day (WPFD), Panos Institute Southern Africa stands in solidarity with media practitioners across Southern Africa who continue to inform and educate citizens without fear or favour, despite the many hurdles caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
WPFD is commemorated globally on 3 May to enable journalists, civil society representatives, national authorities, academics and the broader public to discuss emerging challenges to press freedom and journalists’ safety, and to work together on identifying solutions. The theme for this year’s WPFD commemoration is: Journalism without fear or favour. The theme seeks to highlight issues around the safety of women and men journalists and media workers; advance independent and professional journalism free from political and commercial influence; and to promote gender equality in all aspects of the media.
This year’s WPFD commemoration is at a time the world is grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted many aspects of journalism, and undermined the media’s ability to function without fear or favour.
As we commemorate WPFD, and in the face of numerous threats triggered by the COVID-19, Panos encourages various stakeholders to support the media sector in whatever way possible. During a pandemic such as the COVID-19, the media must churn out verified, accurate, relevant and timely information to hold leaders to account, and to influence timely response actions to contain the virus. This is a crucial moment where the mainstream, community and online media platforms are supposed to be on top of the situation, setting the agenda for debate and action, and debunking misinformation and fake news which have become so widespread during this pandemic. We encourage different stakeholders to support the media in making this possible.
Panos commends media houses and individual media practitioners for the great strides they are making to uphold professional standards and do journalism without fear or favour. We are aware of the many challenges facing media houses as they try to sustain their operations in the face of this unprecedented global public health emergency. So serious is the situation that some print media outlets in the region have stopped printing, and now distribute their content online. Unfortunately, most of these publications have not adequately monetized their online distribution. Broadcast media outlets have also been constrained, as the COVID-19 has forced them to make numerous adjustments. Online publications are also struggling to generate enough revenue to sustain their operations.
We commend governments, cooperating partners, civil society organisations and other agencies, for providing regular and detailed updates to enable journalists to cover the COVID-19 response. However, in some cases the media coverage has not gone beyond the daily updates shared by the government. This has in some cases been attributed to challenges journalists face to access information held by some entities. We therefore call on governments in Southern Africa to put in place the measures, including laws and polices where necessary, to enable journalists to easily access information held by public bodies. We also encourage governments to put in place tax relief or exemptions for the importation of media equipment and accessories. Journalists and media practitioners are essential frontline workers in the COVID-19 response, and they should be treated as such.
Panos encourages the private sector, public entities, civil society, cooperating partners and other stakeholders to support media houses through advertisements, equipment, content development grants and other forms of support. We also encourage individual consumers or users of media products to pay for those products, and where the access is free, contribute any kind of support that may be required.
The media must, without fear or favour advance the rights of poor and marginalised communities, ensuring the COVID-19 response does not trample on the rights of any group or class of citizens, and that no one is left behind in the development agenda.
Executive Director, Panos Institute Southern Africa