Among the numerous things that are of concern about the new surge of authoritarianism around the world with the measures put in place against the Covid19 global pandemic, is the case of journalism today. Border closures and measures restricting mobility are already impacting physical access in many regions of the world. In places where the governments were already infamous for curtailing freedom of speech and actions of journalists, the protection of the populace against fake news is the new excuse for suppressing journalism, such as in Turkey where local journalists are detained and intimidated for publishing news of patients with Corona virus in their region1, where people are also investigated and arrested for posts they had shared on social media about the pandemic.2 It is hard to estimate how many of these criminal cases are based on allegations of “inciting panic,” or of “fake news”. Few cases of social media commentary that were reported in the media rather suggest that there is an active targeting of criticism against the response of the government to this pandemic in Turkey.3
The suppression of information and state censorship marked the outbreak of COVID-19 when the city of Wuhan in China delayed response in December and by doing that delayed the preparation of epidemic experts and policy-makers in other parts of the world. In times of mega crises such as the total collapse of species, climate catastrophe, and increasing totalitarianism that amass power and public resources for the 1% that further accelerate these crises, information freedoms have proved not only a civic right, but a matter of survival, and as a matter of justice, in the long line of recent examples, from manufacturing consent for waging wars, to the suppression of scientific research on climate change. The global crackdown on journalism that is sparked during the spread of coronavirus has been recently reported by the Columbia Journalism Review.4
The restrictions placed on movement and social contact will physically hinder journalists from accessing their sources and restrict their investigative capacities, as it happens under curfews. But there is a further danger of incapacitating research and investigation about the claims officials make about the situation. As the late capitalist system reveals its bones and muscles, so it seems that the dangers of authoritarianism materialize on the wake of a global pandemic, against which centuries of struggles fought to be able to name and demand rights and freedoms.
My primary material of research is found photographic images that are circulating on social media platforms. A large portion of these images are taken and shared by regular people who are not journalists or photographers by profession. Scholars call these regular image and information makers “citizen journalists”. Some of these images circulate widely and become iconic images that reflect some aspects of the events in a particular way. Many of these beautiful iconic images, however, are taken by photojournalists, who put their bodies in the presence of many others and risk their lives particularly during social upheavals. The risk to their lives and to their freedom continue even after they have taken these photographic images that have the potential to serve as evidence. Journalism and photojournalism are falling under the sway towards totalitarianism in many places around the world even though the state of journalism is a major concern in times of a mega crisis such as a global pandemic. Yet, independent journalism, like independent and critical research, is a crucial field in the struggle against the intensifying monopolies of knowledge. So I decided to create a series of posts on some fantastic photojournalistic images in order to both celebrate photojournalists and their invaluable work, and offer a reading of these images.
1 Hikmet Adal, “‘We No Longer Chase After Coronavirus News After Being Detained,’” Bianet – Independent Communication Network (blog), March 23, 2020.
2 “Sosyal Medya Kullanıcıları ve Gazetecilere Koronavirüs Gözaltısı,” Bianet – Bağımsız İletişim Ağı (blog), March 20, 2020.
3 Joel Simon, “COVID-19 Is Spawning a Global Press-Freedom Crackdown,” Columbia Journalism Review (blog), March 25, 2020.