Brussels, 3 March 2021
EaP CSF COVID-19 Policy Paper on Freedom of Speech and Media Plurality in the Context of the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic revealed many social, economic and political vulnerabilities of the Eastern Partnership countries, including freedom of speech and media pluralism. This policy paper provides a thorough analysis of how the current health crisis affected the freedom of speech and media, and what potential for change it has created in the six Eastern Partnership countries.
Alongside the COVID-19 pandemic, the governmental restrictions related to it were a stress test for multiple areas related to human rights, including the freedom of speech and media plurality. Specifically, concerns have been raised over the respect of the freedom of expression, both for individuals and the media, in several Eastern Partnership countries. This analysis focuses on identifying positive and negative changes with regards to freedom of speech and media resulting from policies related to COVID-19, examining the role of media in providing reliable information about COVID-19, evaluating the role of digitalisation on independent media, and assessing the impact of the strengthened strategic communication and support for media in the implementation of the 20 Deliverables for 2020.
The extraordinary measures taken during the COVID-19 pandemic have greatly impacted the freedom of speech. This trend is particularly noticeable in Azerbaijan and Belarus, where abuses of power are more likely to occur than in Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. EaP governments should be transparent and consistent in their communication to society, strike a careful balance between freedom of expression and the fight against disinformation, promote and support media literacy, and address structural obstacles such as media ownership.
The EaP CSF as the principal non-governmental organisation in the architecture of the Eastern Partnership initiative has a significant role in overcoming and improving these concerns. The EaP CSF should continue to voice the EaP journalists’ needs to the international donor community and advocate for more flexible financing for smaller civil society organisations. Likewise, the EaP CSF should raise the status of freedom of speech beyond the realms of Working Group 1, making media literacy a cross-cutting theme across all Working Groups, in line with the 20 Deliverables for 2020.