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Media Freedom Coalition announces funds to fight Covid-19 infodemic

Posted on: November 18, 2020 by Mariella Brown

Media freedom is under attack from disinformation campaigns, threats to journalists and the misuse of emergency Covid-19 measures, the global Media Freedom Coalition has stated.

The Coalition, of which the UK is a member, has subsequently announced $1m in additional funds for a UNESCO media defence fund and $1.5m for a BBC Media Action project to tackle the Covid-19 infodemic.

The announcements were made after a ministerial-level meeting at the second Global Conference for Media Freedom held in Canada on Monday (November 16).

The conference focused on the threats to factual information during the coronavirus pandemic as well as reiterated the Coalition’s commitment to protecting the independence and safety of journalists and media workers worldwide. The Coalition was first established in London in July 2019 with then-UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt at the helm.

In a joint ministerial communiqué released yesterday (November 17), the Coalition commended journalists and media workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, including those reporting on health, and acknowledged the pandemic’s “tremendous cost on societies” which has further undermined media freedom.

The Coalition’s statement recognised the “worrying growth of threats against journalists, both online and offline” which attempt to intimidate media organisations and workers into silence. It also urged governments to recognise that impunity for attacks against journalists is “one of the main challenges” when attempting to strengthen the protection of journalists.

The communiqué read: “We expressed concern at the efforts of some states to use the crisis as an excuse to put in place undue restrictions on a free and independent media. We also expressed concern that some states have undertaken pandemic-related disinformation campaigns to undermine trust in democratic political systems and their pandemic responses.

“We urged governments to continue guaranteeing the freedom and independence of the media and the safety of journalists and other media professionals, as well as to refrain from imposing undue restrictions in the fight against COVID-19.”

In response, the conference saw the announcement of an additional $1m in funding for the UNESCO Global Media Defence Fund, established by the UK and Canada to help enhance media access to legal assistance. The UK had initially pledged £3m to UNESCO over five years for the Fund’s establishment.

The Coalition also announced $1.5million for a BBC Media Action project ‘Lifeline’ which is working to tackle the Covid-19 infodemic with journalists in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Indonesia to create fact-based Covid-19 content.

Co-hosting the conference, Karina Gould, Canada’s Minister of International Development said: “Viruses don’t know borders, and our ability to respond to COVID-19 also depends on access to reliable information abroad. This is why we are supporting the work of BBC Media Action as it creates reliable, fact-based media content that provides life-saving information to communities in need and why we are supporting local media in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Indonesia to do the same.”

The communiqué also called on member countries to consider the policy options and best practices to support media freedom – including fostering an enabling legal environment for freedom of expression; addressing the issue of the safety of journalists regionally and incorporating measures to protect from the gender-specific safety risks faced by women and marginalised groups of media workers.

The call by the Coalition comes as the UK has set up a National Committee for the Safety of Journalists, of which the Society of Editors is a member, to create a National Action Plan aiming to enable journalists to carry out their work free of threats and intimidation.

This year’s conference was co-hosted by Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne along with Botswana’s Presidential Affairs Minister Kabo Neale Sechele Morwaeng, and saw three new countries – Australia, Belize and Botswana – join the existing 37 member states.

Read the communiqué in full here.