Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic warned on Friday that the measures imposed in a number of countries during the coronavirus pandemic are limiting media freedom and obstructing journalists.
“The global health problems caused by COVID-19 require effective measures to protect people’s health and lives. This includes combating disinformation that may cause panic and social unrest. Regrettably some governments are using this imperative as a pretext to intro-duce disproportionate restrictions to press freedom; this is a counterproductive approach that must stop. Particularly in times of crisis, we need to protect our precious liberties and rights,” Mijatovic is quoted as saying in a press release.
She warned that the authorities in some CoE member states have introduced regulations hampering journalists and restricting the public’s right to receive information.
“In Bosnia and Herzegovina, decrees and legislative proposals aimed at punishing the circulation of information that can cause panic run the risk of limiting the work of journalists and freedom of expression on social media platforms. In the Czech Republic, Serbia and Italy, there have been reports of cases of journalists who were prevented from attending press conferences, obtaining information from health authorities or documenting the operations of law enforcement officials. In Turkey, several journalists were detained in reprisal for their reporting on COVID-19. In Slovenia, a journalist who filed an information request about the measures adopted by the government to face the pandemic has been the target of a smear campaign by media close to the political party leading the government coalition,” the press release said and wared that access to information is a collateral victim of the measures governments are taking to face the pandemic.
“There is no doubt that governments are facing unprecedented challenges during this pandemic. This cannot however be an excuse to clamp down on the press and thus restrict people’s access to infor-mation. Journalists and media actors carry out indispensable work that serves the public good. Their work must be protected, not undermined,” Mijatovic said and called all CoE member states to preserve press and media freedom and ensure that measures to combat disinformation are necessary, proportionate and subject to regular oversight.