21 April 2020

Guidelines on press freedom

International organizations during states of emergency
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression expressed on March 20 that "States cannot suppress or prohibit rights and freedoms in a generic manner and, especially, must not limit the freedom of communication of the media, organizations and social or political leaderships, to seek and disseminate information by any means".

Additionally, they specified, "in the face of state of emergency, states can adopt temporary restrictions on human rights. In light of this context, these measures must be subject to strict observance of the public health objective, be temporarily limited, have defined objectives, as well as being strictly necessary and proportional to the objective pursued."

The IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression spoke on April 18 against government restrictions on freedom of expression and access to information during the pandemic in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, and the United States. Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression; Harlem Désir, OSCE Representative for Media Freedom and Edison Lanza, IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, jointly expressed on March 19, 2020 that "the right of access to information implies that governments must make extraordinary efforts to protect the work of journalists. Journalism plays a crucial role in the face of a public health emergency, especially when its goal is to provide the public with critical information and to monitor government action. We urge all governments rigorously to enforce their freedom of information laws to ensure that all people, and especially journalists, have access to information."

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, expressed that, even in the midst of a pandemic, "it is imperative to respect civil and political rights", and the measures adopted must be "necessary and proportionate".

Bachelet censured the arrests of journalists and health workers in some countries, stressed that "criticizing is not a crime", and urged "all governments to significantly increase access to accurate information", because "transparency is not only essential, but it can save lives". She condemned the blocking against the internet and social media.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres denounced that COVID-19 has caused a "dangerous disinformation epidemic" and said that social media platforms "must do more to end hate and harmful speech around COVID-19".

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) filed a lawsuit against the UN in April due press freedom violations during a pandemic, denouncing some states of violating the right to information, harassment, arbitrary arrests and violence against journalists. In addition, RSF expressed concerns about legislative initiatives against press freedom in 38 countries, including Brazil, the United States, Algeria, Jordan, Zimbabwe, Hungary, Cambodia and China.

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic IAPA emphasized that "a free press is a fundamental condition for societies to resolve their conflicts, promote wellbeing and protect their freedom", and that "the credibility of the press is linked to commitment to the truth, the search for precision, impartiality and equality," as stated in the Declaration of Chapultepec."

IAPA President Christopher Barnes said that within this framework it is up to the media "to assume our roles as essential service providers in this period of heightened emergency and take all necessary steps to help guide your countries through this pandemic event."