In times of uncertainty, independent journalism is a beacon of hope …
NMT Statement to mark World Press Freedom Day, 2020.
At a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has plunged the world into crisis, the Namibia Media Trust (NMT) renews its appreciation of the role of free and independent journalism as a critical component of a thriving democracy. This is the key principle articulated in the 1991 Windhoek Declaration which is more imperative than ever before.
During times of global upheaval, the news media become a primary source of public communication and therefore essential in the response to the current pandemic – to provide citizens with access to information, so vital to help them protect themselves and others. In addition, the media is also actively fighting a second virus, the infodemic – the label that the World Health Organisation has attributed to a miasma of coronavirus-related conspiracy theories, misinformation and lies circulating on social media. It is also with deep concern that we have noted an increase in media freedom violations in tandem with the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the highest number reportedly being recorded in Africa. This greatly impacts the work of journalists who, despite the dual threats to their lives and careers, are committed to bringing accurate news and analysis to citizens about Covid-19 and other issues of fundamental importance to society.
As always, World Press Freedom Day presents us with a moment to reflect on the future of journalism. The Covid-19 pandemic has been termed by some as a “media extinction event” which begs multi-stakeholder intervention to secure and sustain media as a public good. It is after all a key pillar of democracy, good governance, and sustainable development which should be maintained at all costs.
This is the third year the NMT has given support to the annual Guillermo-Cano Unesco World Press Freedom Prize which recognises a person, organisation or institution that has made an outstanding contribution to the defence and/or promotion of press freedom anywhere in the world, and especially when this has been achieved in the face of danger. The 2020 laureate is Colombian investigative journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima, whose reporting has focused on the armed conflict and peace process in Colombia and on sexual violence against women. Ms. Bedoya Lima was herself a victim of sexual violence in 2000 when she was abducted and raped while investigating arms trafficking for the daily newspaper El Espectador. Three years later, while working for the daily El Tiempo, she was kidnapped by militants of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Despite these personal tragedies, her commitment to journalism remains and she continues to be a resilient campaigner against the alarming increase of violence against women journalists in Latin America and other parts of the world.
So, it is with profound respect that we pay homage to Jineth Bedoya Lima and all journalists around the world who continue to speak truth to power under the most difficult of circumstances. Today you are our ‘Corona Icons’, but you have always been our ‘Freedom Icons’.
Finally, we call on all governments to exercise restraint during the pandemic, especially in guarding press freedoms. We urge you to take immediate action to secure the release of journalists jailed around the world whose lives are at risk due to the spread of Covid-19. For journalists who have been jailed for their work, freedom is now a matter of life and death.