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UN unveils fight against a fake news ‘infodemic’ that puts lives at risk

In Somalia, radio journalist Mohamed Abdiwahab Nuur has been detained since March 7, suspected of ties to Al Shabaab – a charge he denies.

By LISA VIVES
Global Information Network

While Americans hotly debate the subject of “fake news,” Africans and others around the world marked a day for reflection on press freedoms in theory and in practice. The theme for this year’s event launched by the U.N. agency UNESCO was “Journalism without fear or favor”.

 The state of journalism in most parts of the world is precarious, according to many media specialists.

The 2020 World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), shows that the coming decade will be decisive for the future of journalism, with the Covid-19 pandemic highlighting and amplifying the many crises that threaten the right to freely reported, independent, diverse and reliable information.

 In Africa, journalists had more to fear from speaking truth to power. In Swaziland, for example, Swazi journalists were harassed and threated with treason for reporting critically about King Mswati II, according to the NY-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

In Somalia, radio journalist Mohamed Abdiwahab Nuur has been detained since March 7, suspected of ties to Al Shabaab – a charge he denies.

Journalists now face threats of prison for publishing “false and damaging” information in violation of a new state law on COVID-19 and other infectious diseases in Nigeria – a nation which ranks near the bottom of the CPJ’s “Impunity Index”. NJ publisher Sowore Omoyele, founder of the news site Sahara Reporters is still jailed despite his court-ordered release in December.

Audrey Azoulay, head of UNESCO, said in an address at the U.N.: “At a time when we are mired in worry and uncertainty because of the coronavirus pandemic, free information is essential to helping us face, understand, think about and overcome this crisis.

“This is why the Organization has teamed up with the rest of the United Nations family to fight the “infodemic” of rumors and disinformation which is exacerbating the pandemic and putting lives at risk.”

As much as government repression, media also face extinction in an uphill battle for finances. This week, The New York Times issued a special appeal to support local news outlets which are barely keeping heads above water. Some 36,000 workers at U.S. news companies have been laid off or furloughed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“As advertising dollars disappear and consumers change their spending habits, a key piece of that journalism — local journalism — is increasingly threatened,” they wrote. “Newspapers near you are at risk. Donate or subscribe to a local news outlet!” (See Times’ database of local news outlets

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