Free media threatened by Covid-19-inspired laws

PHOTO: Laws to combat Covid-19 misinformation often suppress journalists as well.

The International Commission of Jurists is warning that media and journalists in Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam are seeing legal repression grow during the Covid-19 pandemic. In a submission to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the group outlined the expanding threat. New laws that many claim violate human rights also serve to throttle the space in which media and reporting can operate, limiting their ability to investigate and report important information and details freely.

Governments in Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia are enacting these new regulations that may be well-intentioned, as a means to control misinformation about Covid-19 as the pandemic rages on. But they also include glaring loopholes that may allow abuse of human rights. Extreme punishments for violations like jail time and large fines are also cited as a deterrent to free media.

The ICJ asserts that these three countries are already abusing current laws to restrict information and dissent by punishing social media posters and media journalists struggling to report during Covid-19. There may be an uncomfortable grey area between the need for an unrestricted press and the often urgent need to quash false information about the pandemic from spreading and threatening public health by discouraging necessary health and safety precautions.

But the ICJ argues that more targeted action against this misinformation is more effective than disproportionately broad restrictions that are punished with huge fines and prison sentences.

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The ICJ’s paper calls for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to continue to push the governments of Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia to strike a balance between public safety during Covid-19 and access for media workers and journalists. They view this as a balance between the rights of freedom of expression and the right to a healthy life. A report is being prepared now for the UN human Rights council on journalistic safety.

SOURCE: Prachatai

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Neill Fronde

Neill is a journalist from the United States with 10+ years broadcasting experience and national news and magazine publications. He graduated with a degree in journalism and communications from the University of California and has been living in Thailand since 2014.

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