Apr 19, 2021 by Coalition

Safety of journalists, COVID-19, and the role of public development banks


On 16 April 2021, as part of the Defenders in Development campaign, the Coalition presented a joint submission – together with press freedom organizations Article19, Comittee to Protect Journalists and IFEX – to the UN Human Rights Council for their upcoming report on Covid-19 and journalist safety. You can read the full submission here.

Around the world journalists, bloggers, media and medical workers, human rights defenders and all those who are scrutinizing or raising concerns for inadequate or non-transparent responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are under attack

The pandemic has exacerbated an already dire situation and many governments have used COVID-19 as an excuse to further restrict civic space and quash any form of dissent. In numerous countries, those reporting on COVID-19 have faced threats, online harassment, imprisonment, torture, forced public apologies and even killings. Many governments have also approved restrictive laws that severely undermine the right to freedom of expression, while states of emergency – with the ensuing restrictions to civic space – have been normalized and in some cases become permanent. 

Public development banks – that by definition should be accountable to the public, as they are owned and controlled by governments – have played a crucial role in providing funds for the response to the pandemic. Yet, they have failed to uphold their commitments to engage effectively with their stakeholders and ensure people could safely express their concerns or scrutinize the COVID-19 response that they were contributing to fund.

In a rapidly evolving situation like a pandemic, information is key. Many bank projects explicitly include social media and communications campaigns as part of the COVID-19 response. Yet, in many countries journalists have been attacked when providing crucial information or debunking dangerous misinformation. Many others might have stayed silent because of fear of possible retributions. 

For a successful and effective COVID-19 response, the right to freedom of expression must be guaranteed, media should be able to report freely and safely, civil society should have the space to engage without fearing retaliations, and the voices of journalists and human rights defenders must be protected.