Journalists wearing protective gear wait near a hostel where residents are quarantined because of COVID-19 disease in Kiev, Ukraine, on April 28, 2020. (Reuters/Gleb Garanich)

A year like no other: The state of press freedom in 2020

The Torch is a weekly newsletter from the Committee to Protect Journalists that brings you the latest press freedom and journalist safety news from around the world. Subscribe here.

What a year! Over the past 12 months, journalists worldwide faced the risk of COVID-19 exposure while reporting on the frontlines of the pandemic, and bore the brunt of virus-related crackdowns and censorship. Journalists mobilized to cover consequential elections, and a wave of protests and unrest around the world from Minsk to Minneapolis.

Authorities surveilled journalists, seized their digital devices, and shut down their news sites. Journalists were attacked, hacked, arrested, and assaulted. CPJ found a record 274 journalists behind bars worldwide on December 1, and at least 30 journalists were killed for their work in 2020, with the number singled out for murder more than doubling from the previous year.

In response, CPJ stepped up to defend press freedom and the rights of journalists to report safely. As COVID-19 spread, CPJ compiled safety information for journalists covering the pandemic, translated into more than 40 languages. As political tensions mounted in the U.S. CPJ shared resources for reporters covering the election with #PressSafety2020. Journalists on the ground gave us insight into the challenges of covering protests in Belarus, wildfires in the U.S., the aftermath of the explosion in Beirut, and the war in Nagorno-Karabakh.

CPJ demanded justice for fallen colleagues with the Global Campaign Against Impunity, and thousands joined our call for the release of all jailed journalists with #FreeThePress. We are grateful for friends like you who help make this work possible.

For a deeper look at press freedom in 2020, dig into CPJ’s most-read features and special reports from a year of historic upheaval.

A closer look | CPJ’s most-read features in 2020

  1. New laws obstruct work of investigative journalists in Puerto Rico — Coral N. Negrón Almodóvar/CPJ Patti Birch Fellow for Data Journalism
  2. Amid coronavirus pandemic, Iran covers up crucial information and threatens journalists — CPJ Middle East and North Africa Staff
  3. Liberia’s journalists wary as authorities announce new press passes, threaten shutdowns — Jonathan Rozen/CPJ Senior Africa Researcher
  4. How Nigeria’s police used telecom surveillance to lure and arrest journalists — Jonathan Rozen/CPJ Senior Africa Researcher
  5. US, UK, Interpol give Ghana phone hacking tools, raising journalist concerns on safety and confidentiality —  Jonathan Rozen/CPJ Senior Africa Researcher
  6. Hospitalized Belarusian journalist Alena Scharbinskaya tells of beatings inside Minsk detention center — Valentinas Mite/CPJ Russia and Belarus Correspondent
  7. Manipur’s ex-journalist chief minister pursues Imphal Free Press for defamation —  Kunal Majumder and Aliya Iftikhar/CPJ Asia Program
  8. Ahead of elections, Tanzania’s regulator is used as a cudgel against the media —  Muthoki Mumo/CPJ Sub-Saharan Africa Representative
  9. Journalist Patricia Devlin on working in Northern Ireland: ‘I feel vulnerable and I feel threatened’ — Attila Mong/CPJ Europe Correspondent
  10. Hong Kong journalists struggle to carry on as national security law hits Apple Daily — Steven Butler/CPJ Asia Program Coordinator
  11. Q&A: Citizen Lab documents Chinese censorship of coronavirus keywords —  Ahmed Zidan/CPJ Digital Manager
  12. Indian journalist Vidya Krishnan on navigating harassment and government obstruction while covering COVID-19 — Aliya Iftikhar/CPJ Senior Asia Researcher
  13. Freelance journalists risk lives and livelihoods amid COVID-19 pandemic —  Courtney C. Radsch/CPJ Advocacy Director
  14. NY Times reporter Davey Alba on covering COVID-19 conspiracy theories, facing online harassment — Lucy Westcott/CPJ James W. Foley Fellow
  15. Data journalists describe challenges of reporting on the true toll of COVID-19 — Rebecca Redelmeier/CPJ Audience Engagement Associate and Coral N. Negrón Almodóvar/CPJ Patti Birch Fellow for Data Journalism
  16. Mission Journal: Journalists in India’s Uttar Pradesh say threat of attack or prosecution looms large —  Kunal Majumder/CPJ India Correspondent
  17. Tech platforms struggle to label state-controlled media —  Courtney C. Radsch/CPJ Advocacy Director
  18. ‘An attempt to gag the media’: Journalists on Nigeria’s proposed social media bill —  Jonathan Rozen/CPJ Senior Africa Researcher
  19. Journalist Dayanna Monroy on covering the COVID-19 crisis in Ecuador —  John Otis/CPJ Andes Correspondent
  20. ‘We’re scared shitless out here’: Four reporters on covering the federal response to Portland protests —  Lucy Westcott/James W. Foley Emergencies Research Associate

The deep dive | CPJ’s 2020 special reports

CPJ on screen | CPJ’s top videos of 2020

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