Journalists and media workers are facing increasing politicisation of their work and threats to the freedom to simply do their jobs, according to the UN.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, many media workers have been on the frontlines, providing accurate, science-based reporting to inform decision-makers and save lives, said the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, marking World Press Freedom Day Tuesday.
But the threats to their freedom to go about their reporting and storytelling fairly and accurately are multiplying daily.
From global health to the climate crisis, corruption, and human rights abuses, they face increased politicisation of their work and attempts to silence them from many sides, Guterres said.
Digital technology has democratised access to information, but it has also created serious challenges, he added.
The UN chief also said many social media platforms make their money not through increasing access to fact-based reporting, but by boosting engagement, "which often means provoking outrage and spreading lies."
Media workers in war zones are threatened not only by bombs and bullets but by the weapons of falsification and disinformation that accompany modern warfare. They may be attacked as the enemy, accused of espionage, detained, or killed, simply for doing their jobs.
Guterres said digital technology was also making censorship easier for authoritarian governments and others, seeking to suppress the truth, with many journalists and editors facing the prospect of their work being taken offline daily.
Digital technology is also creating new "channels for oppression and abuse," with women journalists "at particular risk" of online harassment and violence.
The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, has found that nearly three-quarters of women respondents had experienced online violence. Hacking and illegal surveillance also prevent journalists from doing their jobs.
The methods and tools change, but the goal of discrediting the media and covering up the truth remains the same as ever, said the UN chief, leading to citizens without free media being "manipulated in horrifying ways."
Without freedom of the press, there are no real democratic societies. Without freedom of the press, there is no freedom, he added.
Ten years ago, the UN established a Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists to protect media workers and end impunity for crimes committed against them and continues to fight to protect their rights.