Secretary-General’s remarks to High-Level Dialogue on Press Freedom and Tackling Disinformation in the COVID-19 Context

Excellencies, distinguished panel members, dear friends,

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.

It is a great pleasure to speak to you, and I hope you are all keeping safe and well.

We mark World Press Freedom Day every year as an important moment to focus on media freedom and the protection of journalists.

This cause remains essential.

I have spent time in war zones and refugee camps; I have seen how journalists risk their lives to make sure people’s stories are heard. I could not do my job without the courageous, creative and often deeply moving work of the media.

Reporters regularly bring to light major cases of corruption and nepotism, human rights violations, ethnic cleansing, sexual and gender-based violence. These reports are crucial in the pursuit of justice, laying the foundations for more detailed investigations that may lead to prosecutions.

But the media has come under increasing pressure in recent years. Many journalists face threats, harassment and violent attacks. Last year, 57 journalists were killed around the world.

Women are often targeted for attack. The winner of this year’s World Press Freedom Day award, the Colombian journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima, is one such courageous woman reporter.

When journalists are attacked, societies as a whole pay a price. No democracy can function without press freedom, which is the cornerstone of trust between people and their institutions.

So today, we pay tribute to all journalists working under hazardous and difficult conditions around the world.

This year on World Press Freedom Day, the world, including the media, faces an entirely new challenge: COVID-19, which is affecting everyone, everywhere.

Along with the pandemic, we are seeing a dangerous outbreak of misinformation, from harmful health advice and hate speech to wild conspiracy theories.

Blatant lies spread online at a terrifying rate. A recent analysis found that more than 40 percent of posts about COVID-19 on one major social media platform were posted by bots – automated programmes disguised as people.

The antidote to this pandemic of misinformation is fact-based news and analysis.

It depends on media freedom and independent reporting.

And it is rooted in a fundamental tenet: “journalism without fear or favour”.


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