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It’s a familiar story. Toe the government line – any government – and survive. Criticize the government, or its cronies, or policies that benefit the few rather than the majority, and risk censure or worse. Investigative journalism examines questions of public interest: crime and corruption, certainly, but also deceit and failure. Fair and balanced coverage of issues that impact ordinary people distinguishes good journalism from bad journalism, genuine news from fake news.

With the onset of the current pandemic, things are bound to get a lot more challenging for many migrants and refugees, as well as for the societies that host them. The number of forcibly displaced people worldwide was already the highest it had been in decades even before the global coronavirus crisis. In 2016,  about 40 million people became internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 22.5 million,  refugees.  Most migrants are extremely vulnerable both to the health and socio-economic effects of COVID-19. They are constantly on the move, work in the service economy, and have limited access to public services. Women migrants are particularly affected.  We have read  stories of hundreds of Venezuelan migrants violating the government-imposed quarantine in Colombia by trying to return to Venezuela at all costs, where they hope to at least they access the country’s precarious health system and look after their families. Most had been working in Colombia’s informal economy and, after the lockdown, were unable to earn a living. 

The World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), suggests that the coming decade will be decisive for the future of journalism. The 2020 edition of the Index, which evaluates the situation for journalists in 180 countries and territories, identifies five converging crises: geopolitical (due to the aggressiveness of authoritarian regimes); technological (due to a lack of democratic guarantees); democratic (due to polarisation and repressive policies); trust (due to aggravated suspicion of the media); and economic (impoverishing quality journalism). These are currently compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Even faced with COVID-19, despotic regimes will stop at nothing. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has expressed its concern at some Middle Eastern governments taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to increase state censorship and to clamp down on the dissemination of news and information.

[vc_row css_animation="" row_type="row" use_row_as_full_screen_section="no" type="full_width" angled_section="no" text_align="left" background_image_as_pattern="without_pattern"][vc_column][vc_column_text]Civil liberties are most fragile during times of crisis. As conflict the world over has shown, digital communications infrastructures can easily be used to censor, to silence, to monitor, and ultimately to sanction. In China, WeChat and Weibo are extremely popular. China introduced new laws and hired hundreds of people to monitor content on these platforms, forcing netizens to be vigilant and to self-censor. The Chinese government claims that monitoring cyberspace betters society, but many believe that the authorities have an ulterior motive: suppressing alternative views and dissent in public and in private.

Trade relations must not be allowed to threaten hard-won universal rights. The United Kingdom appears to be trying to wriggle out of applying the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to its post-Brexit existence as a non-member of the European Union (EU).

Collecting personal data for the best of reasons – such as tackling the coronavirus pandemic – has triggered a wave of misgivings. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (www.eff.org) has responded to growing concerns with a statement (10 March 2020) urging “a balance between collective good and civil liberties.” The EFF statement says: