• A chilling effect on the right to freedom of expression arises when interference with this right causes fear, leading to self-censorship and ultimately the impoverishment of public debate.
• Accordingly, State authorities should avoid taking measures or imposing sanctions that have the effect of discouraging participation in public debate.
The International Center for Policy and Conflict (ICPC) observes that atrocious attacks against journalists and all media actors constitute serious violations of human rights.
The attacks target not only individuals but deprive the public of their right to receive information and thus restrict informed public debate, which is at the heart of pluralist democracy.
In response to the alarming and unacceptable level of threats to journalists and media actors, and given the damaging effect on the functioning of a democratic society, it is very critical for the state to put in place comprehensive legislative frameworks for the protection of the physical and moral integrity of journalists and other media actors.
Appropriate criminal law provisions should be adopted to deter the commission of offences and ensure all crimes against journalists are effectively investigated to prevent impunity.
A chilling effect on the right to freedom of expression arises when interference with this right causes fear, leading to self-censorship and ultimately the impoverishment of public debate, which is to the detriment of society as a whole.
Accordingly, State authorities should avoid taking measures or imposing sanctions that have the effect of discouraging participation in public debate.
A chilling effect also results from the arbitrary use of punitive administrative measures such as registration and accreditation schemes for journalists, bloggers, Internet users etc, in order to harass journalists and other media actors or to frustrate their ability to contribute effectively to public debate.
The discriminatory allocation of public media or press subsidies or of State advertising revenue can also produce a chilling effect on critical editorial lines pursued by the media, in particular for smaller media organizations and in precarious economic climates.
The surveillance of journalists and other media actors, and the tracking of their online activities, can endanger the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression if carried out without the necessary safeguards.
They can also threaten the safety of the persons concerned and undermine the protection of journalists’ sources.
Legislation criminalizing violence against journalists should be backed up by law enforcement machinery and redress mechanisms for victims (and their families) that are effective in practice.
Clear and adequate provision should be made for effective injunctive and precautionary forms of interim protection for those who face threats of violence.
Such a comprehensive legislative framework should enable journalists and other media actors to contribute to public debate effectively and without fear.
The framework should be underpinned and reflect the principles set out in the national Constitution and international instruments and thereby guarantee public access to information, privacy and data protection, confidentiality and security of communications and protection of journalistic sources and whistle-blowers.
Moreover, in order to create and secure a favourable environment for freedom of expression, the state should afford journalists a broad scope of protection fundamental to the pursuit of their activities, such as protection of confidential sources, protection of news and information-gathering processes and editorial autonomy.
Finally, the Covid-19 pandemic has had adverse effects on media freedom and the welfare of journalists.
The pandemic has inflicted significant economic damage on newsrooms. This reality cannot be shoved away.
Journalists are working in a severely pressured financial, physical and psychological environment during the pandemic.
This will be the most enduringly difficult professional and career period.
The growing demand for information during the pandemic has not been met with an adequate increase in journalistic resources.
The Covid-19 pandemic fallouts are both a challenge and opportunity in a new era of impartial, objective, fact-based and human interests journalism.
Covid-19 is transforming the news and accelerating the speed of journalistic innovation.
Ndung’u Wainaina is the Executive Director, International Center for Policy and Conflict