Mass Violence and Atrocities

Responding to COVID-19 requires rigorous reporting, but independent media is under threat

Devon Terrill and Kelly Smits | May 2020


Stanley Center has joined GFMD and more than 170 organizations in calling for more support of journalism organizations and independent media amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The global health emergency caused by COVID-19 has disrupted the world dramatically. According to the World Health Organization, as of May 3, more than 3.3 million COVID-19 cases had been reported worldwide, with deaths in the hundreds of thousands and cases rising.

While measures to contain the pandemic, including lockdowns and quarantines, have impacted nearly every aspect of daily life for billions of people in more than 187 countries, the ripple effects of this global crisis have shed new light on many challenges that existed long before the new coronavirus first emerged in December 2019.

In recent months, we have seen journalists and news organizations under pressure to deliver a constant stream of fact-based news and information as the COVID-19 crisis unfolds, while their already stressed ad-based business models collapse. Meanwhile, traditional news-gathering methods have been upended, misinformation is proliferating on digital platforms, and—as governments try to control the narrative—press freedom is increasingly under threat.

To mark World Press Freedom Day on May 4, the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and the Embassy of Sweden in Washington, DC, hosted a panel discussion with journalists and media leaders on challenges and opportunities for journalism in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.


As ICFJ Senior Vice President Sharon Moshavi introduced the panel, A Free Press is Even More Vital in the Age of COVID-19, she aptly portrayed the current media environment.

“[Journalism] is being attacked on so many fronts. From authoritarians and democracies using the pandemic as an opportunity to squash media freedoms, we’re seeing crumbling business models, journalists being laid off, news organizations shutting down. We’re seeing rising levels of misinformation, and declining levels of audience trust. But, at the same time, we are seeing how incredibly vital and necessary journalism is right now… Deliver[ing] accurate news and information is literally saving lives.”

Since its founding in 1956, the Stanley Center has understood the importance of journalism and media as we work to address critical issues of global peace and security. This appreciation is reflected in one of the center’s core values underpinning our work:

“We value independent, accurate journalism and the role journalists and the media play in building better-informed societies, more-accountable institutions, and effective global governance.”

As the world seeks to control the health crisis brought on by COVID-19 and mitigate associated challenges, we need quality journalism and media to endure long after this crisis has passed.

It is for this reason that the center has joined more than 170 press freedom, media development, and journalism organizations in signing a statement urging support for journalism and independent media during the COVID-19 crisis. Launched on World Press Freedom Day by the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD), the International Civil Society Organization on the Safety of Journalists Coalition (ICSO SoJ Coalition), and GFMD members, partners, and affiliate networks, the appeal is a call to action to all those who rely on journalism and news media to stay informed in this difficult time.

The statement includes specific appeals to:

  • Governments
  • Journalism and media development donors and funders
  • Technology, telecommunication companies, and Internet intermediaries
  • Advertisers
  • Individuals who read, watch, or listen to trusted news service—both local and international


By signing this emergency appeal for action, we reinforce our commitment to a strong, diverse, and independent press, and stand in solidarity with the many journalism and media organizations who are our partners. Through this unprecedented time, we will continue to provide journalists with opportunities to effectively report on the global peace and security challenges at the heart of the center’s work.

We call on others to join the pledge and take action to strengthen this critical pillar of society in its time of great need. Whether that support promotes rights to press freedom, access to information, journalist safety or editorial independence, or if it ensures the short and long-term financial sustainability of the news media, the world needs good journalism now more than ever.