The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) joins the world in celebrating World Press Freedom Day. Free and independent journalism is vital to open and democratic societies. The role of journalists is even more important during a public health crisis like the one we face today, when they serve as “first corresponders.” By keeping the public apprised of developments in real time, reporters help ensure citizens have access to the information they need to make well-informed decisions, to foster transparency throughout society, and to hold governments accountable to their people. Investing in independent media and maintaining space for journalists to operate freely is as important to public safety as supporting firefighters, paramedics, or other first responders.
Unfortunately, malign actors and authoritarian leaders around the world consistently repress the freedom of the press. Today, regimes in Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, Tanzania, and elsewhere are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to crack down on the media by invoking sweeping restrictions that constrain journalists and limit the free exchange of information. This repression and state censorship are fostering the spread of disinformation and preventing crucial public health information from reaching vulnerable populations who need it the most. Perhaps most egregious is the effort by the Chinese Communist Party to rewrite history, and spread baseless rumors about the origins of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
USAID condemns these opportunistic and cynical actions in the strongest possible terms. Amid this crisis, we will redouble our efforts worldwide to support free and independent reporting. We are currently working in more than 30 countries to strengthen accurate news coverage; bolster the professionalism and safety of journalists; create an enabling environment for free expression; and restructure media companies’ business models so they can flourish, even under the harshest conditions.
Today, we pay tribute to the journalists who work day in and day out, often at great personal risk, to bring news and information to people. There has never been a more important time to protect these freedoms.