Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders is sounding the alarm that the coronavirus pandemic poses a threat for press freedom around the world.
In its annual evaluation of global media freedoms, the group warned Tuesday that the health crisis could serve as an excuse for governments "to take advantage of the fact that politics are on hold, the public is stunned and protests are out of the question, in order to impose measures that would be impossible in normal times.”
North Korea ranked at the bottom of the group's press freedom index. As in 2019, Norway again topped its ranking of 180 countries and territories.
Overall, the report judged press freedom to be "satisfactory" in the United States but also said "public denigration, threats, and harassment of journalists continued to be a serious problem” last year. The U.S. ranked 45th on the group's list, behind countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceania, Latin America and the Caribbean.
The report highlighted U.S. President Donald Trump's hostility toward some journalists and media outlets and said his oft-deployed "fake news” phrase "has now been deployed by leaders around the world as a tool to crack down on the media.”
"Hostility toward journalists and news outlets in the United States deepened and intensified, and few attacks were as vitriolic as those that came from the president," the group said.
"The abuse is only getting worse amid the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, as journalists covering the Trump administration’s response to the crisis are subjected to the president’s attacks during his press briefings," it said.
Other threats to the future of journalism are economic, with job cuts gutting newsrooms, the group said. And the weak regulation of digital technologies has "created information chaos,” blurring lines between fact, fiction, propaganda and advertising.
"The pandemic has amplified the spread of rumors and fake news as quickly as the virus itself,” the report noted.
"For this decisive decade to not be a disastrous one, people of goodwill, whoever they are, must campaign for journalists to be able to fulfill their role as society’s trusted third parties," it said.