COVID-19 highlights need for robust media to uphold human rights

Amnesty International is highlighting the importance of media, journalism and diversity of sources amid COVID-19 responses following discussions between New Zealand media figureheads and the Epidemic Response Select Committee.

Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand Executive Director Meg de Ronde says the future of media in New Zealand is very much a human rights discussion as journalists work on human rights issues every day. A healthy media enables a range of human rights to be realised.

"Journalists are human rights defenders. They’re often working hard on behalf of vulnerable communities and that’s clearly been the case during this crisis. However, we can’t forget this is true during times of normality as well. The media should be a place of robust discussion. Journalists can act as watchdogs on power and if we see a further collapse of media outlets, the systems that ensure justice start to break down."

Meg de Ronde, Executive Director

De Ronde says it’s important to consider the needs of people, not just media organisations as business models.

"Journalism is about people, and a model focused only on profit doesn’t always serve us well. People aren’t just consumers, we are citizens, and those two notions can have very different needs. Our media model must be diverse in representations, ideas and ownership models. Access to different types of media is crucial in a healthy rights-respecting society; it’s how we navigate our worlds, how we reflect on our individual and group identities. We come to understand each other through media. This understanding decreases fear of other people."

Meg de Ronde, Executive Director

She urges the Government to ensure a range of voices are heard in relation to future proofing the media landscape, particularly emphasising that the lack of Māori voices in the committee today was concerning. De Ronde adds media diversity is important now more than ever in the context of COVID-19.

"Media freedom and the ability for media to access information is particularly important now, in the context of protecting all our human rights, including the right to life and health and the impact misinformation can have on vulnerable communities. We need to ensure we have sources of information we trust. A diverse mediascape better holds those with power to account."

De Ronde also called on New Zealanders to cease any online harassment targeting journalists. Research by Amnesty International into online harassment and abuse has revealed the impact of online abuse particularly on women and women of colour, including physical and psychological harm and a silencing effect. De Ronde noted feelings were running high during the lockdown but that individual journalists shouldn’t be abused as they go about their job as essential workers.

"Journalists are under stress and working in extraordinary circumstances. Sure we have the right to challenge them and ask questions. But leave the attacks out of it."