Media Defence has launched its 2020 annual report, marking the end of a pivotal year for freedom of expression.
COVID-19 presented us with unprecedented challenges. As we moved our lives online, and grappled with mis-information, authoritarian regimes used the crisis to clamp down on dissent and scrutiny. Yet, in spite of these crackdowns, 2020 also became a year of protests. We witnessed global Black Lives Matter marches, as well as pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, and anti-SARS demonstrations in Nigeria. As a result, the past year has only highlighted the critical importance of having access to reliable, independent information.
In our annual report, we reflect on the deteriorating global climate for journalists. Moreover, we outline the work we carried out to improve this climate. Using infographics, case studies, statistics, and interviews with beneficiaries, we hope to illustrate the crucial role Media Defence plays in protecting media freedom globally.
“It is essential that governments everywhere, whatever their political orientation, should be challenged and held to account on behalf of their citizens. And this should be as true in the large, rich, world powers as in the smaller, poorer and more disadvantaged countries. In the eight years I have been a trustee and then Chair, the critical importance of Media Defence has come more sharply into focus for me: it exists because it is truly needed.”
– Robert Jobbins, Chair of the Board of Trustees
Last year was both a challenging and successful year for Media Defence, as we began our 2020 – 2024 strategy period. We supported 443 cases, of which 241 were new, in 63 countries. We also supported 51 new strategic cases and distributed 14 new partner grants, improving the legal context for journalists in the long-term.
“2020 has been an incredibly challenging year for independent media. Independent, fact-checked news was more important than ever, and news outlets saw their readership increase during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the media’s work also became a lot more difficult. Journalists risked their health to inform the public. The slump in advertising revenue added to the financial pressures the media were already under. Authoritarian governments cracked down on independent media reporting truthfully on the pandemic and legal threats increased.
With more than half of the world’s population living in a country where press freedom is in crisis, our work is more needed than ever.”
– Alinda Vermeer, Acting CEO
The Global Threat to Journalism
Despite the pressing need for reliable, evidence-based information throughout this pandemic, independent journalism faces enormous challenges. These threats range from regressive laws stifling free speech, to dwindling advertising and print revenue.
A record 274 journalists are in prison globally in 2020. Moreover, at least 32 journalists were killed in 2020: crimes that, statistically, will likely go unpunished. Countless others faced harassment and legal action for their reporting, silenced by governments and powerful actors. Worryingly, these trends are not confined to authoritarian or undemocratic states. In the US, police arrested at least 50 journalists during Black Lives Matter demonstrations, while the use of rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas injured dozens of others.
“I can’t express how grateful I am to Media Defence. It’s hard to imagine what would be of my 2021 without your help.”
JP Cuenca, Brazilian writer and journalist
We’re committed to defending journalists who face threats for their reporting, and improving the context in which they work. What’s more, we are unique in what we do. To date, we’re the only organisation in the world solely focused on providing this crucial help to journalists. So, as we enter the second year of our strategy period, we will continue to invest in our role of capacity-builder. This means funding more partners globally, training lawyers, and developing our resources.
To view the full report, please click here.
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