COVID-19 Is Enabling Some Governments To Limit Press Freedoms

China, Iran, Iraq and Hungary have all suppressed media during the pandemic.

COVID-19 Is Enabling Some Governments To Limit Press Freedoms
Mark Schiefelbein / AP

The COVID-19 outbreak is bringing with it a crackdown on press freedom in different parts of the world.

"If the press is not able to operate independently, to question what corporations and government officials are saying and reporting, then the public doesn't have access to the truth ultimately. And, you know, that can affect their voting decisions. It can affect their purchasing decisions," Darragh Worland, Vice President of Creative Services with the News Literacy Project said.

Darragh Worland, vice president of creative services with Newsy's partners at the News Literacy Project, says the outbreak is empowering governments to censor coverage.

China, Iran, Iraq and Hungary have all reportedly either censored coverage of the outbreak, stripped journalists of their ability to report in retaliation for questioning virus figures, or passed "coronavirus laws" with penalties of up to five years in prison for distributing false information.

The 2020 World Press Freedom Index from the nonprofit Reporters Without Borders ranks 180 countries based on the amount of freedom they afford journalists. The report says, "There is a clear correlation between suppression of media freedom in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and a country's ranking in the index."

"The most important example, obviously, is China," Worland said.

The low-ranked China, at number 177 in the index, reportedly delayed informing the public of the virus and deliberately under-reported its coronavirus figures. China has denied withholding information on the virus. 

Worland says protecting press freedoms will be even more crucial now.

"The role of a vigorous free press is to constantly be questioning statements and assertions and looking for the facts behind them," Worland said.

To mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3, the News Literacy Project is highlighting the intricacies of press freedom, discussing with reporters their experiences and reviewing the role of watchdog journalism in the U.S., which was ranked 45th on the index.

"There really needs to be an alliance between a free press and the public in order for democracy to ultimately function the way it's designed to function," Worland said.

Contains footage from CNN.