Freedom of expression and information and freedom of the media are crucial for the functioning of a truly democratic society and continue to be so in times of crisis. Notably, in times of crisis media play a key role, also coupled with increased responsibility, in providing accurate, reliable information to the public, but also in preventing panic and fostering people’s understanding and cooperation with necessary restrictions.
The COVID-19 pandemic that has spread across the world since the beginning of 2020 poses a serious threat to the health, lives and future of all of us. Governments, health authorities and countless professionals in North Macedonia and all over the globe, are working to contain the outbreak and to mitigate its effects. As a result, nearly every aspect of daily life of billions of people world-wide has changed. Finding an effective response to the pandemic is a shared top priority for decisionmakers around the globe. Extraordinary measures are both needed and justified in this time of crisis. Inevitably however, questions have arisen as to how far such measures should extend and how long they should remain in place. Preserving life and health is the main objective and States must act promptly and forcefully in this situation. Yet, their response must be proportionate to the demands of the situation in respect of human rights and the rule of law, this being the very mark of democratic governance.
The provision of timely information about public health risks is a critical element in crisis response. Open communication and dialogue between local and international governmental and non-governmental organizations, media organizations, medical professionals and civil society must always therefore be provided to ensure better human rights protection in times of crisis.
Providing effective access to information to the public involves two distinct aspects:
- on the one hand, governments communicate pertinent information through timely press briefings, reports and public pronouncements. On the other hand, media coverage based on independent news sources, transparent editorial methods and accurate, fact-checked information is crucial to educate and inform the public including at regional and local level and to scrutinize the measures taken to curtail the crisis, prompting re-evaluation and regular adjustment as needs evolve.
Quality, responsible journalism, including in-depth science research by science journalists, is essential to an aware and well-informed public that is capable of critical thinking. By extension, abundance of reliable information also effectively counters rumors, misinformation and disinformation that can lead to unnecessary panic.
In the quest for fair and quality reporting, while the media have the responsibility to cover the crisis as accurately and promptly as possible, journalists themselves are affected by the crisis as they continue to report from the frontlines. Having available expert advice on covering the pandemic as well as appropriate medical protection for COVID-19 related risks is of paramount importance for doing their job.
“Mitigating A Global Health Crisis While Maintaining Freedom of Expression and Information” is an awareness raising initiative under the Action on Freedom of Expression and Freedom of the Media in North Macedonia (JUFREX). JUFREX is part of the “Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkans and Turkey II”, a co-operation initiative co-funded by the European Union and the Council of Europe and implemented by the Council of Europe, that enables the Beneficiaries to meet their reform agendas in the fields of human rights, rule of law and democracy and to comply with the European standards, including where relevant within the framework of the EU enlargement process. The campaign is implemented by APRIORI Communications.
Learn more about the project here: https://www.coe.int/en/web/skopje/freedom-of-expression-and-freedom-of-the-media-in-north-macedonia-jufrex