UNESCO, EU Partners and Media Matter for Democracy mark World Press Freedom Day with Webinar on “Press Freedom and Journalism During (Covid19) Crisis” held by Islamabad office on May 5, 2020.
During the Covid19 pandemic, as well as other situations of crisis, it is critical for people to be informed with facts to make well-informed decisions, to avoid patterns of paranoia, fear, and negatively stigmatizing others. Noting this, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called for “countering the scourge of misinformation – a poison putting more lives at risk.” Taking stock of the situation the webinar explored the crucial role of media in providing credible information, addressing misinformation, and the subsequent emerging challenges faced by journalists in fulfilling their tasks.
Patricia McPhillips, UNESCO Representative Pakistan, welcomed the participants and emphasized that “A free and independent press is essential at all times, but is particularly important during a health and economic crisis such as the one we are currently experiencing”. Ambassador of the European Union Delegation to Pakistan Ms. Androulla Kaminara reiterated that “Journalists are essential workers, especially during the Covid19 crisis: They provide the information that people need to act responsibly and appropriately to stay safe. They stimulate the public debate about the best way to address challenges and provide accountability that is crucial for any democratic society”.
Mr. Asad Hashim from Al Jazeera discussed the factors impeding press freedom in Pakistan especially in light of the current health crisis. He also stressed upon the need to provide safeguards to journalists facing multifarious threats due to the corona virus. While discussing the ‘misinfodemic’, Ms. Ramsha Jahangir (DAWN) highlighted the vital need for providing credible and fact-based information by news media to counter misinformation. Mr. Tayyab Afridi representing Tribal News Network analyzed the coverage of COVID-19 related news in remote and far-flung areas. Mr. Shabbir Anwar (Pakistan Peace Collection, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting) described various initiatives launched to gauge the perception of citizens about the corona virus and shared the lessons learnt.
In his concluding remarks, Ambassador of Netherlands to Pakistan Mr. Wouter Plomp stated, “In these times of COVID-19 crisis, journalists have the vital task of disseminating reliable information, keeping people informed and holding governments accountable. To recognise the importance of a free press, I would like to say to journalists that you are here to protect our freedoms. It’s our duty to protect yours”.