CJA warns against misuse of special powers to muzzle media coverage of pandemic

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The Commonwealth Journalists Association has warned its member states against the misuse of extraordinary powers to silence independent media coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

The states have assumed the powers while responding to the pandemic, but CJA is “deeply concerned” that the powers “may have the effect of criminalizing the work of journalists”.

These may also “arbitrarily restrict” the ability of the news media to scrutinize the actions of governments and report in the public interest, the association said in a statement on Monday.

“The CJA regrets that in some member states, governments have been using emergency and special powers to influence media reporting on the crisis, to restrict media access to sources of information, and to harass or arrest journalists who publish news critical of the government,” it said.

The CJA also said that efforts to tackle the pandemic “must not be allowed to undermine the democratic values”.

It called on the governments to support the critical role of independent media in reporting on all aspects of the unfolding pandemic.

“The CJA recognizes that in order to respond to the public health emergency it may be necessary for governments to introduce emergency measures which restrict certain freedoms, but it reminds governments that those powers should be exercised proportionately, transparently, and only for the temporary purpose of dealing with the emergency,” the statement read.

“The dissemination of accurate news and well-informed discussion about the impact of the pandemic nationally and globally is vital “if governments are to maintain public trust, to ensure fair treatment of vulnerable minorities and to avoid social tensions and distress”, it added.

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