The caution has come to intensify awareness of the dangers facing the independent media as the inky fraternity prepares to observe this year’s World Press Freedom Day slated for Monday, May 3, 2021.
A statement from IPI and copied the Ghana News Agency, said brutal crackdowns on the press were unfolding openly across the globe, adding that, after seizing power in a coup on February 1, 2021, Myanmar’s military junta had arrested more than 70 journalists, revoked licenses of independent media outlets, and repeatedly blocked internet access.
It said in Belarus, the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko, launched a campaign to criminalise reporting on protests against the previous year’s “fraudulent” election and the Chinese government had accelerated an unprecedented effort to eradicate fundamental freedoms, including; press freedom, in Hong Kong.
The statement said the COVID-19 pandemic had aided the negative trend as governments used the public health crisis to restrict reporting, block access to information, arrest journalists for their coverage of the virus, and passed sweeping “fake news” laws that could be used to silence criticism.
It said IPI’s COVID-19 Press Freedom Tracker had recorded 635 press freedom violations around the world out of, which India had seen 84 violations – more than any other country.
Madam Barbara Trionfi, Executive Director of IPI, said the rise in open attacks on press freedom and the targeting of journalists in dictatorial and illiberal-minded regimes around the world was an ominous sign for the future of democratic freedoms.
She said Press Freedom was under assault everywhere with tactics and methods for doing so being shared and copied by governments.
The Executive Director said anti-democratic regimes increasingly felt that they could silence the media with impunity and that had a domino effect, encouraging other states to follow suit.
The statement said Africa ranked second in terms of arrests and charges against journalists and media outlets.
It said Zimbabwe reported the greatest number of arrests in the region, including that of prominent investigative journalist, Hopewell Chin’ono.
The statement said 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.
“Most recently, the Malaysian government took advantage of emergency powers to bypass parliament and introduce a regressive new regulation providing up to three years in prison for ‘fake news’ on the pandemic or the state of emergency itself. Russia introduced legislation that imposes a fine of up to €21,000 and a five-year prison term for spreading ‘false information’,” the statement said.