Report: Virus pandemic being used to curb press freedom

A riot police points the pepper spray to journalists as pro-democracy activists gather outside a shopping mall during the Labor Day in Hong Kong, Friday, May 1, 2020 amid an outbreak of the new coronavirus. May Day usually brings rallies and celebrations rallies marking international Labor Day. This year it's a bitter reminder of how much has been lost for the millions left idle or thrown out of work thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
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An international media rights group said Sunday the coronavirus pandemic is being used by governments around the world to increase restrictions on press freedoms.

In a report issued to coincide with World Press Freedom Day 2020, the International Press Institute concluded that in both democratic and autocratic states the “public health crisis has allowed governments to exercise control over the media on the pretext of preventing the spread of disinformation.”

It said authoritarian governments have been abusing emergency measures to “further stifle independent media and criminalize journalism,” while in democracies “efforts to control the public narrative and restrict access to information around the pandemic are on the rise.”

The Vienna-based organization said it has documented 162 press freedom violations related to coronavirus coverage over the past two and a half months, almost a third of which have involved the arrest, detention or charging of journalists.

The institute’s report came three days after the International Federation of Journalists published a survey that found that the working conditions of news reporters around the globe have deteriorated during the coronavirus pandemic amid job losses and attacks on media freedom.

World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the United Nations in 1993.

Ahead of this year’s event, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the COVID-19 crisis has underscored the importance of a robust and free press.

“As the pandemic spreads, it has also given rise to a second pandemic of misinformation, from harmful health advice to wild conspiracy theories,” he said. “The press provides the antidote: verified, scientific, fact-based news and analysis.”