If ever there were a crucial time to be a journalist, the time would be right now. As the world is continuously torn apart by the lethal COVID-19 epidemic, people are looking to the news for the information they need to make informed decisions about their health and safety. A critical piece of that information is where the outbreaks are and the extent of the damage they’ve done. Access to this information would empower people to take their health into their own hands, even if it means relocating to avoid unsafe areas.
The governments of many countries don’t like this idea. A mass exodus can weigh heavily on an economy, including but not limited to devastating impact on tax revenues. Governments also like to give the appearance that they’re highly in control of major events impacting their citizens, but with a pandemic, only so much control can be afforded. Because of this, governments are silencing journalists that are highlighting the true depth of the problem. Governments would rather save face than genuinely protect their people, and their pride has a body count.
The Countries Impacted
Middle eastern countries were never kind to journalists. Many countries in this region have been heavily censoring the internet since the moment it became apparent that it was a tool to easily spread information that may run contrary to the narrative. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates have made bold moves to dissuade or criminalize journalistic activity they find unfavorable.
While Saudi Arabia and the UAE are enforcing anti “fake news” campaigns by imposing hefty fines on journalists who report stories the governments don’t like, other countries are taking things a step further. The Iraqi government flat out suspended Reuters’ news license within the country, forbidding them from reporting altogether. In a similar move, the Egyptian government has begun the process of revoking press credentials for international journalists reporting on the full scope of the pandemic within the country.
Turkey is its own special case. Notorious and highly controversial President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is known to incarcerate journalists on a whim. He is unpredictable and very volatile when it comes to his stature and perceived competence. Journalists have been charged and are awaiting trail after reporting on COVID-19. The Turkish government is still attempting to decide if they were “inciting panic” by reporting on the true events of the epidemic. If they are found guilty, it’s likely they’ll face extensive jail terms.
Countries like Russia are maintaining their same position on unfavorable reporting. The Russian internet is highly censored (and soon to become a full fledged intranet), and anyone who expresses an opinion contrary to the official on the record opinion introduced by the administration can and will face jail time.
Many South American countries have followed suit, removing credentials from journalists, arresting them, and interrogating them for publishing information about the virus. Unfortunately albeit unsurprisingly, this type of treatment of journalists has become commonplace when they are most needed for the safety of the public.
Governments Have the Same Aim
In response to the pandemic, dozens of governments around the world have proven what we’ve already suspected of them – they’re more worried about their image and their perceived level of control over their populations than they’re actually worried about the people who pay their salaries.
These governments fear an empowered response from people who feel as though their administrations are not doing an adequate job protecting the healthy and curing the sick. Because of this, their efforts are more focused on controlling the perception of the problem than handling the actual pandemic that is taking lives and endangering everyone.
Finding Accurate Information Despite an Overreaching Government
For people in countries with strict internet censorship and anti-journalism policies, the best way to obtain real and accurate reporting on the pandemic is by circumventing the open internet. Using a stealth protocol VPN like TorGuard will allow you to access information from outside of the country, even if your government has it blocked. Because of the VPN’s stealth protocol feature, the government will never know that people are circumventing blocks to access the truth, preventing consequence for the normal person just trying to keep their family safe in a time of international crisis.