Attacks On Press Freedom Growing Bolder Amid Rising Authoritarianism: IPI

VIENNA, May 3: Authoritarian and illiberal-minded regimes are becoming increasingly emboldened in their efforts to stifle independent media, the International Press Institute (IPI) warned ahead of World Press Freedom Day 2021.

Brutal crackdowns on the press are unfolding openly across the globe. After seizing power in a coup on February 1, Myanmar’s military junta has arrested more than 70 journalists, revoked licences of independent media outlets, and repeatedly blocked internet access.

The coronavirus pandemic has aided the negative trend as governments use the public health crisis to restrict reporting. Authorities have blocked access to information, arrested journalists for their coverage of the virus, and passed sweeping “fake news” laws that can be used to silence criticism. IPI’s COVID-19 Press Freedom Tracker has recorded 635 press freedom violations around the world. India, which is battling a major wave of infections, has seen 84 violations – more than any other country.

“The rise in open attacks on press freedom and the targeting of journalists in dictatorial and illiberal-minded regimes around the world is an ominous sign for the future of democratic freedoms”, IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said.

“Press freedom is under assault everywhere we look, with tactics and methods for doing so being shared and copied by governments. Anti-democratic regimes increasingly feel that they can silence the media with impunity. This has a domino effect, encouraging other states to follow suit.”

She added: “The coronavirus pandemic and the accompanying states of emergency have provided in some cases a cover for governments to usher in new systems and norms that invite censorship and self-censorship. There is a clear risk that many of these norms will outlast the virus and become permanent fixtures. Now is the time to ensure that any rights restrictions are strictly necessary, proportionate and time-limited.”

COVID-19 accelerates negative trends

The COVID-19 pandemic has delivered a debilitating blow to press freedom across the globe. Governments have tried to stifle independent media, while an alarming number of journalists have come under attacks for their coverage of the health crisis. So far, IPI’s COVID-19 Press Freedom Tracker has recorded 635 press freedom violations around the world.

Overall, over 200 violations linked to the pandemic were reported in the Asia-Pacific region, of which about half were from four South Asian countries: Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Nepal. Seventy-one journalists faced arrests and charges for their coverage of the pandemic and its consequences in those countries, while 32 cases of physical attacks and verbal threats were reported.

An alarming number of physical and verbal attacks on journalists were recorded in Europe. A total of 112 cases of attacks have been registered, of which more than 80 percent were by members of the public. Journalists were targeted while covering public demonstrations against lockdowns and other pandemic-related measures.

Numerous states imposed restrictions on access to information, preventing journalists from speaking to health officials or medical workers, or blocking independent media from attending press conferences. Restrictions on access to information were particularly evident in Latin America, where Venezuela and Honduras topped IPI’s Press Freedom Tracker in terms of numbers of violations.

Almost 50 journalists killed in the past year

At least 49 journalists were killed over the last 12 months, according to IPI’s Death Watch. Of those, as many as 43 were murdered in retaliation for their work. Three journalists were killed covering armed conflict and one died while reporting on civil unrest. Two journalists were killed on assignment.

With nine cases Afghanistan had the greatest number of targeted killings over the past year, including three women working for Enikass TV who were shot dead on March 2 as they were on their way home. In Mexico, six journalists were killed in targeted attacks, mostly for their reports on drug cartels and organized crime.

Impunity remains the norm for killings of journalists around the world. While triggermen are occasionally sentenced for their roles, the masterminds of journalist murders almost never face justice.

In February, U.S. intelligence released a report concluding that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman had approved the heinous assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Bin Salman and Saudi Arabia have faced no meaningful consequences for the murder – underscoring the lack of accountability for even the most brazen attacks on the press.

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