Geopolitics

Press Freedom, Another 2020 Victim We Must Not Forget

In addition to coronavirus-related deaths, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) recorded 42 murders of journalists and media workers since the beginning of 2020 in targeted attacks, bombings and shootings.

A journalist in Paris
Anthony Bellanger

-OpEd-

BRUSSELS — Health care professionals and other essential workers have been on the front lines of the fight against the pandemic and its effects for the past 12 months. But so are media workers, in accordance with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which protects the right of individuals to receive and impart information. Journalists' work has been particularly vital in 2020 — a year when access to high-quality and reliable information on the COVID-19 pandemic has literally saved lives.

Unfortunately, our profession has had to pay a dramatic human cost for these efforts. Since the start of the pandemic, journalists around the world have risked their lives to cover reality on the ground, without proper protective gear and safety training. Under these circumstances, several dozen got infected with the coronavirus while carrying out their professional duties, and died from it. We will never forget them.

Journalism may not be considered one of the most dangerous professions in the world, but the global figures of how many media workers were killed show otherwise.

In addition to coronavirus-related deaths, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has recorded 42 murders of journalists and media workers since the beginning of 2020, in targeted attacks, bombings and shootings. The COVID-19 pandemic is aggravating this already critical situation: not only does it threaten journalists' safety, it also jeopardizes the environments in which media professionals carry out their work as the number of fatalities rise.

But that's nothing new. The IFJ's "White Paper on Global Journalism," launched on December 10 on International Human Rights Day, has listed the names of journalists who were killed over the past 30 years — a staggering 2,658. This means that about two journalists or media workers are killed every week. This is the unacceptable reality of our profession.

These numbers don't indicate that the most targeted and vulnerable journalists are actually the ones who work on a local level. Contrary to what everyone might think, nearly 75% of journalists killed worldwide didn't die in crossfires or during dangerous missions in conflict zones. Rather, they die in targeted assassinations, killed by a gunman on the back of a motorcycle, shot or stabbed near their home or office, or found dead after being kidnapped and tortured. This is the case in Mexico, a country with no war but which holds the second highest number of killings of journalists (178) over the 1990-2020 period, after Iraq (340).

Governments have taken advantage of anti-coronavirus measures as a pretext to restrict press freedom.

Journalists not only risk their lives doing their jobs, they also risk their freedom. At least 235 of them are currently in prison in 34 countries on work-related cases based on false "anti-state" charges. Then again, the pandemic has worsened the situation: Governments have taken advantage of anti-coronavirus measures as a pretext to restrict press freedom, increasing the pressure on critical and independent journalism.

Assassinations of journalists and arbitrary arrests have had a dramatic impact on media freedom and the people's right to know. Killing or putting journalists behind bars sends a chilling message to colleagues who are planning to cover certain topics that the powerful would prefer to cover up. The consequence: self-censorship on a particular subject or region. This is detrimental to democracy in times of a pandemic, when the role of the media as a watchdog of government decisions and transparency is essential.

Violence and authoritarian governments have threatened press freedom in 2020, but the economic crisis caused by the pandemic has also had a huge impact on the media and their workers.

Journalists in Ukraine — Photo: Volodymyr Tarasov/Ukrinform/ZUMA

According to an IFJ survey, two-thirds of employed and freelance journalists were subjected to pay cuts, job or income losses. The media "toll" is high, particularly in local and community media, where the pandemic has virtually shut down the press. Without local media, thousands of regions around the world are at risk of turning into information deserts during one of the most difficult times in recent history.

This has certainly been one of the worst years for global journalism. But 2020 has also been the year when the profession and its labor unions have reaffirmed their role and importance: They demonstrated vigorously that they can succeed and protect the rights of media workers even in the most critical situations, and demanded that tech giants pay to use journalistic work, and stop evading taxes.

IFJ members around the world also had to take on tasks which were the responsibility of the authorities, such as providing training and safety equipment to media workers or providing legal assistance to protect them against employers' oppressive decisions.

Now is the time for democratic governments to take bold actions and support journalism, to ensure the safety of media workers and their right to work, and introduce a global tax on online platforms that still engage in tax evasion, in order to collect the necessary funds to save the media and protect the right to know.

Yes, 2020 is a turning point for press freedom: Let's fight together the consequences of the pandemic, or there's a real risk that we let press freedom perish, and our democracies with it.


*Anthony Bellanger is the general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists​.

**This article was translated with permission from the author.

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La Sagrada Familia Delayed Again — Blame COVID-19 This Time

Hopes were dashed by local officials to see the completion of the iconic Barcelona church in 2026, in time for the 100th anniversary of the death of its renowned architect Antoni Guadí.

Work on La Sagrada Familia has been delayed because of the pandemic

By most accounts, it's currently the longest-running construction project in the world. And now, the completion of work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882, is going to take even longer.

Barcelona-based daily El Periodico daily reports that work on the church, which began as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. But a press conference Tuesday, Sep. 21 confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin).

El Periódico - 09/22/2021

El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world.

One tower after the other… Slowly but surely, La Sagrada Familia has been growing bigger and higher before Barcelonians and visitors' eager eyes for nearly 140 years. However, all will have to be a bit more patient before they see the famous architectural project finally completed. During Tuesday's press conference, general director of the Construction Board of the Sagrada Familia, Xavier Martínez, and the architect director, Jordi Faulí, had some good and bad news to share.

As feared, La Sagrada Familia's completion date has been delayed. Because of the pandemic, the halt put on the works in early March when Spain went into a national lockdown. So the hopes are dashed of the 2026 inauguration in what would have been the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.

Although he excluded new predictions of completion until post-COVID normalcy is restored - no earlier than 2024 -, Martínez says: "Finishing in 2030, rather than being a realistic forecast, would be an illusion, starting the construction process will not be easy," reports La Vanguardia.

But what's a few more years when you already have waited 139, after all? However delayed, the construction will reach another milestone very soon with the completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years and the second tallest spire of the complex. It will be crowned by a 12-pointed star which will be illuminated on December 8, Immaculate Conception Day.

Next would be the completion of the Evangelist Lucas tower and eventually, the tower of Jesus Christ, the most prominent of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated 13.5 meters wide "great cross." It will be made of glass and porcelain stoneware to reflect daylight and will be illuminated at night and project rays of light.

La Sagrada Familia through the years

La Sagrada Familia, 1889 - wikipedia

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