Journalists at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic: Is the pandemic an alibi for “silent censorship

Poto: siam.pukkato/Shutterstock

As the coronavirus pandemic is declared, journalists face numerous limitations in their work. Access to information is made more difficult. Sessions of the legislative and executive authorities are monitored online, and in most cases it is not possible to go to the field to cover the event or the media that can be present at the meeting are chosen beforehand. The number of journalists at press conferences is also limited; at some it is impossible to ask questions or the number of questions that can be asked is limited.

Journalists believe that “silent censorship” is in force, and that the coronavirus situation is the means by which this is achieved.

The Association of BH Journalists says that so far they have had numerous complaints from colleagues about the impossibility of gaining adequate access to public information and informing citizens about current events related to the coronavirus.

– That was exactly the reason why we decided to make a survey with journalists from all over the country and ask them how satisfied they are with the information they receive from the crisis staff headquarters and other competent institutions. The survey, which was conducted on a sample of 102 journalists, showed that more than 83 percent of journalists in BiH believe that the crisis headquarters did not provide objective and comprehensive information to citizens about the coronavirus – the Association points out.

Communication between most institutions and crisis headquarters has been going on for months, mostly via e-mail. It all came down to two words – “send an inquiry”, and then when you do, the answer usually arrives late for the weekly newspaper, and often not related to what you asked.

Although protecting everyone’s health comes first, Fedžad Forto, secretary general of the BiH Journalists’ Association, says this does not mean that journalists should be denied access to information and the right to ask questions.

– I am of the opinion that, for example, when it comes to monitoring parliamentary sessions online, it should be ensured that giving statements is organized outdoor. I would also urge the officials to respond to journalistic inquiries they receive through various applications. It would be bad to use this situation to deny journalists information and to witness “silent censorship” or avoidance of giving answers under the pretext of a pandemic. I believe that there are enough technical possibilities to, on the one hand, protect the health of journalists, and on the other hand, to provide the possibility of asking questions and giving information using modern applications – Forto emphasizes.

Prof. dr. Enes Osmančević, a communicologist and associate professor at the University of Tuzla, believes that bh. journalism is going through the most difficult period.

– On the one hand, you have material insecurity and poor professional position of journalists, and on the other, there are the dependence of the media on politics, or their lack of independence in relation to politics, and various types of pressure, threats and even physical attacks on journalists. This actually shows the way in which the government ignores these incident situations, and that it tacitly approves of such treatment of journalists – Osmančević points out.

According to Osmančević, what could be done in the near future is to insist on the adoption of a law on the transparency of media ownership, and for journalists to be declared officials in order to be at least somewhat protected from various attacks.


Source: Faktor.ba, Sarajevo, 23/07/2020