Antidote to COVID-19 disinformation pandemic is fact-based information presented by free and independent media, says Secretary-General

06-Sep, 16;14 admin 840

The following is the statement by UN Secretary-General António Guterres on the occasion of the High-Level Online Dialogue on Press Freedom and Combating Disinformation in the Context of COVID- 19, May 4: 
It is a great pleasure to speak to all of you. Hope you are doing well and are safe. 
Every year, World Press Freedom Day is an opportunity to focus our attention on the issue of media freedom and the protection of journalists. 
This cause remains essential. 
I have spent time in war zones and refugee camps; I've seen how journalists put their lives on the line to make sure everyone's stories are heard. I couldn't do my job without the courageous, creative and often deeply moving media. 
Journalists regularly highlight important cases of corruption and nepotism, human rights violations, ethnic cleansing, and sexual and gender-based violence. This information is essential for the pursuit of justice, as it lays the groundwork for more in-depth investigations that can lead to prosecution. 
But the media have come under increasing pressure in recent years. Many journalists are threatened, harassed or violently attacked. Last year, 57 journalists were killed around the world. 
Women are often targeted. The winner of this year's World Press Freedom Day award, Colombian journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima, is one of those courageous women journalists. 
When journalists are attacked, society as a whole pays the price. No democracy can function without freedom of the press, which is the cornerstone of trust between the people and their institutions.

Today, therefore, we pay tribute to all journalists who work in dangerous and difficult conditions, everywhere. 
This year, on World Press Freedom Day, the whole world, including the media, faces a whole new challenge: COVID-19, which spares no one, nowhere. 
Along with the pandemic, we are witnessing a dangerous wave of disinformation, ranging from damaging health advice to extravagant conspiracy theories to hate speech. 
Blatant lies are spreading online with terrifying speed. Recent analysis found that over 40% of COVID-19 messages posted on a major social network were posted by bots - automated programs masquerading as people. 
The antidote to this pandemic of disinformation is evidence-based information and analysis. 
It depends on media freedom and the independence of journalists. 
And sticks to a fundamental principle: "journalism without fear or complacency". 
This is not just a slogan, but a matter of life and death. 
Journalists and professionals from all media are essential to help us make informed decisions. In a pandemic situation, these decisions can save lives. Now more than ever, we need the media to keep us informed of what is going on; to separate fact from fiction; and to hold leaders to account. 
But since the start of the pandemic, many journalists around the world have been subject to more severe restrictions and disproportionate penalties simply for doing their job. 
While temporary restrictions on freedom of movement are essential to defeating COVID-19, this should never be used as a pretext to prevent journalists from doing their jobs. 
People are scared. They want to know what to do and who to ask for advice. They need science. They need solidarity.
So I thank the journalists and all those who keep us informed and verify the facts and information published on social networks, especially the women and men who cover public health issues. The United Nations is at your side. 
The use of social networks has increased dramatically since the onset of the crisis, as these networks provide unparalleled means to communicate and access information. It is encouraging that social media platforms are starting to take their responsibilities seriously. 
I welcome the recent commitments of these networks to highlight factual content and fight disinformation - especially those that proactively remove harmful content. I urge them to continue these efforts which help prevent the spread of dangerous rumors and false remedies. 
At the United Nations, we work with social media platforms to promote messages that keep everyone safe and healthy. And we have launched our own initiative to flood the internet with factual and scientific data while countering disinformation and lies of all kinds. 
International organizations, as well as governments, have an important role to play in promoting scientific facts and methods. But no one during this pandemic can take the place of the media to deliver information and analysis to the public, and to counter rumors and distortion of facts. 
I call on governments and leaders of all stripes to do all in their power to protect journalists and media workers and strengthen press freedom, during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. 
For media attention • Unofficial document.