Journalists Fighting a War on Several Fronts During COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has immobilized the world and led to hundreds of thousands of deaths over the past several months. Though most people around the world are working from home in an effort to self-isolate, journalists have been putting themselves on the frontlines of communities hit hardest by the virus, risking their own health.

In several countries, local journalists have placed their lives in jeopardy to get up-close coverage of the spread of COVID-19. 

The poor hygiene conditions facilitated in areas such as the Kakuma camp of Kenya became prime targets for the virus. Almost 200,000 people are crammed together in Kakuma, making for an environment in which COVID-19 could be spread like wildfire.

Meanwhile, the refugee news company KANERE has been placing reporters in close contact with the men and women living at Kakuma, where the coronavirus has been confirmed. To date, Kenya has a total of over 1200 coronavirus cases. 

In Pakistan, several dozen journalists covering COVID-19 have contracted it themselves. As of early May, 54 Pakistani journalists were among the confirmed cases. An analysis of these cases suggested the journalists were not adhering to their employers’ policies regarding COVID-19. As a whole, the nation experienced an upsurge in cases at that time (and still is – as the number of infections has escalated beyond 67,000).

The perils of catching a fatal virus are not the only challenge journalists are facing. Many governments have been targeting journalists for reporting on the pandemic and attempting to block off avenues of information, or worse, obscure the facts. 

Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, wrote about these stifling restrictions in countries like Hungary, Iraq, and Egypt back in March. Even as countries were beginning to understand both the public health and economic implications of the virus, several governments had already begun to restrict the public’s access to information.

The Hungarian Parliament, for example, passed a law that permits Prime Minister Viktor Orban to legally reprimand anyone found to have published inaccurate or “distorted” information on COVID-19 with as much as five years’ of imprisonment.

Ruth Michaelson, a correspondent for The Guardian, had her press credentials withdrawn by the Egyptian government due to her research into the allegedly confirmed cases coming from Egypt. She was subsequently deported.

Egypt has actively attempted to dismiss the severity of COVID-19 infections, according to the Washington Institute, a think tank affiliated with AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying group. For instance, the local government claimed in February that the country only had a handful of cases. In reality, the number was close to 6,000.

In Iraq, Reuters was revoked of its license to operate within the country after the news agency published a report suggesting that the number of coronavirus cases was far greater than the numbers the government had confirmed. In Russia, journalists found to be questioning official figures were threatened with fines or having their press credentials revoked. Other COVID-19 reporting limitations have taken place in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and South Africa to name a few.

In recent weeks, the Nepali government targeted at least four journalists for reporting that criticized the government’s handling of the virus. At least six other journalists have reported being threatened or attacked to “suppress allegations of wrongdoing” against the government, the Committee to Protect Journalists found. 

The most recent example of such an incident occurred in late April when a journalist for a Nepalese radio station filmed a disagreement over the distribution of food and other relief instigated by a local politician. The politician allegedly hit the reporter and was forced to delete the footage. 

Several incidents like this occurred throughout the month of April, ever since the government enacted containment measures on March 23.

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