With governments taking advantage of the virus to clamp down on reporters' access to information, the pandemic has also seen a decline in public trust.
Journalism is completely or partly blocked in 73 percent of 180 countries due to the pandemic, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in a report on Tuesday.
The group’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index reflected a dramatic decline in news coverage due to the coronavirus pandemic being used “as grounds to block access to information, sources and reporting in the field.”
Countries in Asia, the Middle East and Europe were particularly deprived of public access to critical information at this time the group said, counting Brazil, Egypt, Iran, Venezuela and Zimbabwe among the nations that had silenced journalists the most.
A decline in access to information has also caused an increasing level of public distrust of journalists, according to the 2021 Edelman Trust barometer. Research in 28 countries showed that 59 percent of participants believed that journalists knowingly reported incorrect information.
RSF secretary-general, Christophe Deloire, said even in decline, journalism is the best vaccine against disinformation.
“Unfortunately, its production and distribution are too often blocked by political, economic, technological and, sometimes, even cultural factors,” Deloire said.
“In response to the virality of disinformation across borders, on digital platforms and via social media, journalism provides the most effective means of ensuring that public debate is based on a diverse range of established facts.”
From debunking false remedies suggested by the heads of states in Brazil and Venezuela, to stepping up to reveal accurate death tolls in Iran, investigative journalism has been critical for access to information during the pandemic -- even though it has come at the expense of a clampdown.
In Zimbabwe, a journalist who exposed the corruption behind a medical equipment company was arrested for his investigative work.
Scandinavian country ranks the best for media freedom
Norway topped the 2021 index for the fifth consecutive year, followed by Finland and Sweden, which was up one spot from last year’s ranking.
Germany and the United States were classified as “fairly good” by the index as both countries saw increasing assaults against journalists. Right wing extremists in Germany attacked reporters during anti-lockdown protests, while a record number of journalists were assaulted during the final year of Trump’s presidency in America.
China, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea were the countries that ranked the worst in the index. The RSF says these countries have absolute control over news and information, and their internet censorship, propaganda and surveillance reached “unprecedented levels”.