In commemoration of World Press Freedom Day on Sunday, May 3, we must recognize the importance of an independent media, given its role in informing the public.
The power of the press to influence the public speaks to its significance and importance. The current COVID–19 pandemic has demonstrated just how vital the media is during a crisis, as it has presented need for facts and verified information to enable people stay safe.
Good journalism creates a system of checks and balances for leaders to perform and act on their promises. People need assurances from their governments in the face of an uncertain future. COVID–19 presents a direct threat to humanity, as everyone, rich or poor, young or old, male or female is vulnerable to the virus. The world is faced with a new normal, with new ways of working, doing business and generally doing life, with hope of an optimistic future in months to come.
Across the world, people have reacted differently, based on information from leaders, scientists, experts, and a whole load of sources. More than ever, people are eager for information on what is new on the virus and how they can best adjust their lives to cope. The media’s public interest role could not be more critical in providing life-saving information. COVID – 19 data needs to be relayed cautiously to avoid creating unnecessary fear but also not to sugarcoat its seriousness.
Free flow of information comes with its fair share of challenges. Journalists sacrifice a lot in their line of work as they face criticism, harassment and even death threats from governments, companies and citizens alike. These curb the freedom to inform, creating a sense of fear among media professionals.
Moreover, COVID – 19 has brought about financial precariousness across all sectors, the media included. As a result, for many media professionals, there is no longer job security, which in the long run could affect independent journalism. Journalists have continued reporting from the frontlines amid the outbreak and risk exposing themselves to the virus. Their personal safety is important if they are to continue reporting without fear. With survival of independent journalism at risk, more so during these unprecedented times, safety of journalists and their profession thus calls for the support of all.
Press freedom comes with a caveat and it is important for journalists to keep in mind that freedom of the press does not mean being above the law. COVID -19 coverage has focused on the spread of the virus, measures taken by leaders and scientists alike, the strain on health facilities and the overall effect of the pandemic on daily life. There has also been a lot of fake news and misinformation since the outbreak, creating a lot of misconceptions and confusion among the public. Journalists need to conduct due diligence and ensure they provide accurate information. Presentation of facts alone has been found to be insufficient in as much as facts are true, it requires emotional intelligence and ability to discern trends. Ethical journalism calls for ensuring the integrity of information that is put out for public consumption. There is need for quality coverage that debunks the wave of misinformation. The press has a professional obligation to be neutral and objective when gathering and presenting news, personal prejudices aside.
Amid the current pandemic, more than ever, we need journalism without fear and favor. As we celebrate this year’s World Press Freedom Day we must keep in mind that media independence is critical, crisis or not, if we are to understand events around us.
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Acepis is proudly supporting UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day campaign. We recognise the need to facilitate and disseminate information to the public for sustainable development. Join us on our social media platforms as we have this important conversation.