A Free Press is Vital in Countering Disinformation

United Nations, May 3 2020

By Maya Plentz

UNESCO, the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, the UN agency that supports international cooperation through education, science, and culture,  marks the World Press Freedom Day today, on the 3rd of May. This year the theme is  Press Freedom and Tackling Disinformation in the COVID-19 context.  An issue brief was published in anticipation of a campaign launch that highlights the importance of evidence-based reporting (see below).  We spoke with Vincent Defourny, Director of Geneva UNESCO Liaison Office on the focus of this year’s report.

On Monday, 4th of May, UNESCO Director-General, Ms. Audrey Azoulay, will host an online discussion on the “importance of free media in providing the public with reliable independent information, vital in times of crisis”.

“Information is a fundamental right. In times of COVID-19, Information can save lives. I wish to pay tribute to journalists, women and men who commit and take risks to keep us informed. Their work is more important than ever, as they help members of the public know how to act and governments to take informed decisions.” UNESCO Director-General, Ms. Audrey Azoulay

The debate will follow the launch of a media campaign, FACTS, which highlights the role of free and independent media in the context of COVID-19. The campaign was designed by DDB. It advocates “the need for a free press in countering disinformation which is putting lives at risk and undermining the response to the COVID-19 pandemic by promoting false cures, conspiracy theories and myths”.

The online event will bring together UN Secretary-General António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, journalist Younes Mujahid, President of the International Federation of Journalists, Maria Ressa, investigative journalist from the Philippines, founder of the Rappler news website, and the Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders, Christophe Deloire, alongside a number of other high level participants. Prominent Mexican-born American journalist Jorge Ramos will moderate the debate.

“Journalism is key to supplying credible information within the wider “infodemic”, and to combating the myths and rumours. Without it, false content can run rampant.”

UNESCO will also present latest data from its 2020 World Trends Report on Media Independence and Press Freedom in Times of COVID-19, to be launched on 5 May. Taking a closer look at the news media and social media information landscape during the pandemic, the report highlights research showing that nearly 42 % of over 178 million tweets related to COVID-19, during the period studied, were produced by bots, and that 40% of these messages were unreliable.

Issue Brief COVID19 and Its Impact on Press Freedom and Journalism

Vincent Defourny, UNESCO Geneva