Published September 1, 2021 | Version v1
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COVID-19 and Freedom of Information: The Return of the Leviathan



This study aims to shed light on the right to information and the freedom of the media in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak. Infection disease outbreaks are invariably characterized by myths and rumors, boosted by social media accounts, that media often pick up and circulate. Under the justification to avoid panic and confusion, and to combat “fake news” during the COVID-19 pandemic, some governments took emergency measures that curtail the freedom of information. The lack of a legal definition of the term “fake news” leaves room for arbitrary and broad interpretations.

Decrees issued during the state of emergency – including the practice of detaining journalists for their work and the abuse of pre-trial detention and Internet censorship – sound like measures adopted to restrict the freedom of expression and the freedom of the media, and to shout down dissenting voices. Any kind of pressure against journalists has an immediate consequence, not only on them but also on the public’s right to be informed. Media play a key role in providing important information to the public, and a pluralistic and vibrant media landscape is indispensable to any democratic society. Access to information and a free working environment are therefore essential and need to be ensured at all times, even under state of emergency. Authorities cannot invoke the state of emergency or national security as a motivation to suspend or limit fundamental human rights. The fight against COVID-19 can be a pretext for restricting civil liberties.


Paper presented in joint session JS RN16- RN32: Subnational level perspectives on the governance of the pandemic at the 15th Conference of the European Sociological Association 2021 (ESA Conference 2021), Wednesday, 1 Sept. 2021: 12:30pm - 2:00pm CEST. Session Chair: Louisa Parks, University of Trento. This study was supported by the European Social Fund (FSE) and by the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT) under research grant No. SFRH/BD/136170/2018. The participation in this conference was funded by the Research Centre of the Institute for Political Studies of Universidade Católica Portuguesa (CIEP-UCP)


15th ESA Conference 2021 - Presentation Marco Marsili.pdf

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