Journalism, press freedom and COVID-19


Released on April 30, 2020, this issue brief highlights new and evolving challenges in the field of journalism brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. It was released by UNESCO as part of its World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development series, started in the year 2014, which analyses major trends in press freedom and journalism.

The issue brief discusses the ‘infodemic’ (defined as an excess of accurate as well as inaccurate information in the media) that accompanied the Covid-19 pandemic. It covers restrictions on press freedom as well as the rise in human rights violations – including the right to free speech and privacy. The 18-page publication presents recommendations to ensure a “free, independent and pluralistic media.” It urges both governments and technology companies – such as Google, Facebook, YouTube – to ensure wider access to the internet, support media organisations and direct people towards reliable data sources.

The seven key trends – divided into distinct sections – highlighted in the issue brief are: Fueling the pandemic, a dangerous “disinfodemic” has arisen (Section I); Technology companies are taking action, but more transparency is needed (Section II); Against soaring demand for verified information, independent media have risen to the challenge (Section III); Some regulatory measures have led to new restrictions of human rights (Section IV); To keep the public informed, journalists are putting their own safety at risk (Section V); Economic impact of COVID-19 may pose an existential threat to journalism (Section VI); and Amid the crisis, there are new opportunities to stand up for journalism (Section VII).


  1. The report states that the ‘infodemic’, defined on the WHO website as the overabundance of information – both accurate and inaccurate – which makes it difficult for people to find trustworthy sources and suitable guidance, was a “second disease” accompanying the Covid-19 pandemic.

  2. The report categorises false information into two kinds – disinformation, which is created and shared with ill-will, and misinformation, which people spread thinking it is the truth.

  3. As part of a study conducted between January-March 2020, by Italy-based research institute Bruno Kessler Foundation, about 112 million social media posts (in 64 languages) related to Covid-19 were analysed. It was found that 40 per cent of these posts were from “unreliable sources.” Another study conducted by the same organisation found that about 42 per cent of over 178 million tweets under consideration were created by bots.

  4. A study conducted by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford University, across six countries in April 2020, stated that roughly one-third of social media users reported coming across false information about Covid-19 in the early months of the pandemic.

  5. The brief notes that occurrences of hate speech, racism and xenophobia were rampant in the infodemic during Covid-19.

  6. Between March and April 2020, technology companies like Facebook and Google undertook content moderation where they removed or labelled misinformation related to Covid-19. Such companies also made donations to fact-checking organisations and journalists. During this period, the report notes, Facebook donated 25 million dollars to local media and fact-checking organisations in North America. However, a study conducted by the Reuters Institute in April 2020, revealed that 24 per cent of the posts marked as misinformation by fact-checkers remained visible on Facebook without warnings.

  7. Many news organisations (the report lists The New York Times, The Washington Post, Financial Times and The Guardian) saw a considerable increase in their web traffic during the pandemic. The report attributed this to people finding news media more reliable than social media.

  8. News media was poorly affected by the pandemic, despite the increase in web traffic. The Global Forum for Media Development, Brussels, an international network of journalism and media organisations, reported that some of its members recorded 70 per cent drops in their advertising revenue.

  9. As of April 2020, the International Press Institute (IPI), Austria, recorded 140 cases worldwide of violations of media freedom related to the pandemic. These included verbal and physical attacks, arrests and charges against journalists, censorship, and limiting access to information. According to data from thIPI, by April 2020, at least 38 journalists had faced arrest or had charges registered against them due to their Covid-19 coverage.

  10. The report notes that the decline in private revenue makes independent journalism vulnerable to political and other influence, giving way to an increased amount of false news and misinformation.

    Focus and Factoids by Yazhini Sathiamoorthy.

    PARI Library's health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.


United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization


United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization


30 Apr, 2020