Today (Sunday) is World Press Freedom Day, at a time when the media like all other professions are working under unprecedented worldwide restrictions, as well as widespread misinformation and mistrust of official sources.
According to United Nations secretary-general António Gutteres, “As the [COVID-19] pandemic spreads, it has also given rise to a second pandemic of misinformation, from harmful health advice to wild conspiracy theories. The press provides the antidote: verified, scientific, fact-based news and analysis.”
Federal minister for foreign affairs Philippe Goffin (MR) took the opportunity to express the government’s support for a free press, particularly in the current circumstances.
“An independent and reliable press is an important indicator of a democratic and open society, which can only function properly if citizens are well informed,” he said.
“As the world today faces one of the most serious health crises of recent decades, people are looking for reliable information. By providing accurate facts, journalists help individuals and governments make informed decisions in the fight against Covid-19. An independent and critical view helps prevent the spread of misinformation,” said Goffin.
“It is not for nothing that the press is often described as the guardian of democracy,” he went on. “Journalists investigate real events, give a voice to those who often are not being heard, and demand a reckoning from politicians.”
Goffin also paid tribute to the many journalists and media workers who have lost their lives in the past year while doing their jobs.
“Governments need to provide them with sufficient protection, while ensuring that those responsible for acts of violence and intimidation against journalists are held responsible,” he said.
According to the NGO Reporters Without Borders, 30 professional journalists, 10 citizen journalists and three media assistants lost their lives while reporting in 2019.
For Goffin, finally, freedom of expression encompassing freedom of the press is an indispensable element of every democratic society.
“That liberty is essential for the realisation and expression of a large range of other human rights. It is a universal human right which everyone may invoke without distinction, in Belgium as elsewhere. Our country will continue to promote that right.”
Among the events organised to mark the day, this evening sees a live streaming event organised by Unesco, from 17.00 to 20.00.
Unesco also launches its global campaign on media and social media, entitled Journalism without Fear or Favour, and covering three main topics: the safety of female and male journalists and media workers; independent and professional journalism free from political and commercial influence and gender equality in all aspects of the media.