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Suppression and survival – the challenges facing global press

Updated: Aug 28, 2020

One might think, looking at story after story filling our newsfeeds, that journalists must inevitably be very busy in the age of coronavirus; that there has been no better time to be a correspondent, providing life-saving information to citizens. To what extent is this true?

As the Coronavirus continues to wreak havoc with the advertising market and distribution of newspapers in Australia, News Corporation announced this week it will suspend the printing of 60 community newspapers in Australia. It barely made headlines. On the same day, Seven West Media said it would ask staff to take a pay cut as the company attempts to navigate the “extraordinary and challenging” environment at present. The situation is summed up by media freedom advocate, Peter Greste: “’News deserts' are spreading fast, in places badly in need of reliable, independent journalism.” The current health crisis has led to yet another blow to public interest journalism in this country.

Source: Mick Tsikas AAP

It could be argued that we’re lucky to have public interest journalism at all, as COVID- 19 spawns a global press-freedom crackdown. Around the world, governments are cracking down on reporters and implementing extensive restrictions under the guise of combating misinformation and “fake news”:

· Governments such as Egypt’s have followed China’s example in expelling foreign journalists, restricting media access and curtailing public discussion;

· Police in Venezuela violently detained a journalist and social media commentator, in reprisal for reporting on COVID-19;

· In Iran, the government has imposed sweeping restrictions on coverage;

· In Turkey, seven journalists were detained in reprisal for their reporting; and

· In South Africa, the government has enacted a new law that makes it a crime to publish “disinformation” about the COVID-19 pandemic.

The list goes on.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Working to deliver uncensored news to the public, in the face of censorship, is Reporters Without Borders. It is delivering uncensored news to the public through an unlikely channel: an enormous library housed inside the video game Minecraft. The library houses real articles written by five journalists from censored countries including Russia, Mexico, Egypt, Vietnam, and Saudi Arabia, providing unblocked news to readers through a unique internet loophole.

Source: Futurism - The Uncensored Library

Closer to home, insight from an Australian journalist provides further hope. It also sheds light on the merits of a media business model that does not rely on advertising revenue.

The coronavirus is the biggest news event I’ve ever covered, and the biggest many of us will see in our lifetimes. This has been the first time every editorial section has been dedicating copy to the same issue, and the first time every article on our home page has been the many facets of the one story. Our readership at The Conversation has trebled, from more than 5 million unique visits a month to more than 15 million - so it’s really clear people are desperate to get their hands on reliable information from a source committed to sharing facts and not sensationalism. ... It has been hectic, and the hours have been long, but we’re very grateful to be one of very few news organisations not reliant on advertising revenue, which is falling as the economy slows. This has already seen the closure of local titles. Our future funding is not assured - much of our yearly operating budget comes from reader donations, and many will struggle to spare the money this year. - Alexandra Hansen, Chief of Staff at The Conversation.

There is no doubt the pandemic will reshape the world. The fourth estate is not immune to this. Here’s hoping what emerges is a thirst and longing for considered, honest, open reporting and an urgency to support those publications that deliver this – at home and abroad.

Molly Bruce

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