Webinar on press freedom in light of the COVID-19 pandemic in Washington

Published 27 May 2020 in:

As part of its work on the Drive for Democracy, the Embassy in Washington had planned a series of events for the spring that had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, a webinar was held in collaboration with the International Center for Journalists about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on press freedom and the safety and freedom of journalists. Three speakers gave their perspectives from different continents, and the webinar was followed live by several hundred participants.

In connection with World Press Freedom Day, the Embassy in Washington and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) held a webinar on freedom of the press and freedom of expression in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The ICFJ is a stakeholder organisation with its headquarters in Washington D.C. that works globally to improve the working conditions of journalists.

The webinar – A free press is even more vital in the age of COVID-19 – was moderated by the ICFJ’s Senior Vice President Sharon Moshivi and brought together three speakers: Cilla Benkö, CEO of Swedish Radio, Melinda Liu, Beijing Bureau Chief for Newsweek, and Jason Rezaian, a journalist for The Washington Post who has been the newspaper’s correspondent in Tehran.

The webinar focused on the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on free media and the freedom and safety of journalists. Cilla Benkö mentioned a number of examples of regimes that are using the pandemic as a pretext to introduce restrictions on media and journalists’ activities and reporting. According to a survey conducted by the International Press Institute, one third of all attempts to restrict free media are now occurring in Europe.

Melinda Liu talked about shrinking press freedom in China and Hong Kong as a result of COVID-19. There are some worrying challenges for media freedom in the United States too, as witnessed by Jason Rezaian – not least concerning the safety of journalists. On the subject of disinformation and propaganda, Melinda Liu talked about a changing tone among certain Chinese diplomats and party representatives, particularly younger ones. The phenomenon was called ‘wolf warrior diplomacy’, named after a growing film genre in which representatives of the official China defeat their adversaries, both physically and intellectually, on the silver screen.

Thanks to the ICFJ’s global network of journalists, the message reached listeners on several continents. The webinar, conducted on Zoom, was attended by 356 people, and some 50 followed via livestream on Facebook. Click here to see the full webinar.