A free press in China could have prevented the coronavirus pandemic, media watchdog says

A free press in China could have prevented the coronavirus pandemic, media watchdog says

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has criticized China for censoring early coverage of the coronavirus epidemic, telling CNN Business that the global pandemic could have been prevented or mitigated if journalists had had more freedom in the country.

He also condemned Hungarian President Viktor Orbán for obtaining new and extended powers to punish journalists in the aftermath of the crisis, and singled out US President Donald Trump and the Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro for their attempts to “denigrate the media and encourage hatred of journalists “in their respective countries. countries.

“If there had been a free press in China, if these whistleblowers had not been silenced, it could have been avoided turning into a pandemic,” Rebecca Vincent, director of the British office, told CNN Business. of RSF, as the group released its annual assessment. media freedom in 180 countries.

“Sometimes we can talk about press freedom in a theoretical way, but it shows that the impact can sometimes be physical. It can affect our overall health,” she said.

Chinese politicians downplayed the severity of the virus in its first weeks, while police targeted the “rumormongers” and the censors removed comments that questioned the official line. Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang later said he understood that the public “was not satisfied with our release of information.”

“Reporting the truth as soon as possible would have allowed the rest of the world to respond probably sooner and probably more seriously,” said Vincent. “The consequences (of stifling media freedom) are actually fatal.”

The Chinese Embassy in the United States did not respond to CNN Business’ request for comment.

Norway topped the world media freedom index for the fourth year in a row, with the Scandinavian countries ranking first. Finland came second, Denmark third and Sweden fourth.

The United States increased slightly but remained in 45th place, just below Taiwan and above Papua New Guinea.

And the UK slipped from two places to 35th after the death of Northern Irish journalist Lyra McKee, who was murdered in riots in Londonderry, also known as Derry, in April 2019. Her The death – the first murder of a journalist in the UK since 2001 – marked “an astonishing low point for press freedom in the UK,” said RSF.

World press freedom ranking (selected countries):

  • 1. Norway
  • 2. Finland
  • 3. Denmark
  • 4. Sweden
  • 5. Netherlands
  • 6. Jamaica
  • 7. Costa Rica
  • 8. Switzerland
  • 9. New Zealand
  • 10. Portugal
  • 11. Germany
  • 16. Canada
  • 26. Australia
  • 34. France
  • 35. United Kingdom
  • 45. United States
  • 142. India
  • 149. Russia
  • 177. China
The audience intervened after 12 tumultuous months for the press. RSF again severely criticized Trump’s rhetoric, accusing the United States and Brazil of “becoming models of hostility to the media”.

Trump has frequently attacked media and journalists, including the daily Coronavirus White House briefings, and Vincent declared that the American president “continued to set the bad example which emboldened the strong men in other countries”.

The “global indicator” of media freedom worldwide has now dropped 13% since its inception in 2013, despite a slight increase last year.

And concerns have been expressed about the new decade, which began with strong men seizing new powers in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Among them is Hungarian leader Orbán, who last month was authorized to govern by decree, allowing him to impose sanctions on journalists if the government believes their information on the coronaviruses is not accurate.

The largest increases in the index were Malaysia and the Maldives, after the elections in each country.

Poland, where the populist Law and Justice party won a convincing re-election and promised tighter media restrictions, and the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong, which has been rocked by anti-government protests for most of 2019.

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