(New York, NY) – This year, PEN America will mark World Press Freedom Day (May 3) by advocating for journalists worldwide facing repression and sometimes violent reprisals for their reporting, as well as by honoring journalists in the U.S. who are covering the COVID-19 crisis on the local level. Earlier this month, PEN America launched Local Heroes: Journalists Covering COVID-19 to call attention to the life-saving work local journalists in the U.S. are playing amid the pandemic, despite a collapse of the local news business.

“This year, World Press Freedom Day highlights the theme ‘journalism without fear or favor,’ a distinction that sums up how reporters globally do the hard work of revealing truth and facts even when facing immense danger,” said Summer Lopez, senior director of  free expression programs at PEN America. “Now more than ever, truth-tellers play a vital role in maintaining free expression and free societies. Increasingly, their lives are imperiled. We’ve seen reporters risk their own lives in emergency rooms in Queens, New York; face detention for reporting on the COVID-19 outbreak in China; seen their work criminalized in Bolivia and Thailand. Journalism has never been more vital and has never been more at risk – and we should pay special attention to the threats here in the United States.”

PEN America is using World Press Freedom Day in particular to highlight the plight of journalists persecuted for their coverage of COVID-19. China has consistently suppressed information about the coronavirus outbreak; journalists Chen Qiushia and Fang Bin have been missing since February after reporting on their government’s response, and reporters from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Voice of America, and TIME were expelled in March 2020. Journalists in the Philippines, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Russia, Venezuela, and Haiti have been threatened, harassed, attacked, and arrested for their COVID-19 reporting.

Press freedom is not only an international concern. Here in the United States, PEN America is advocating for support for local news coverage, hollowed out by years of declining revenues and now under accelerated stress even as communities nationwide are depending on journalists to deliver critical information about the COVID-19 outbreak. PEN America is leading a campaign on Capitol Hill to include support for local reporting in future economic stimulus bills, and has appealed to all 50 state governors and the mayor of the District of Columbia to do the same. Last year, PEN America issued a comprehensive report Losing the News on the vital role journalism plays in a democracy and the solutions policymakers should undertake to shore up local reporting.

“Local reporting has faced a cataclysm, now exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis,” said PEN America’s Lopez. “And yet every day, journalists are plowing into the most serious health crisis of our lifetimes to provide truly life-saving work. We are so grateful for everything they do, and we urge everyone to subscribe or donate to local reporting outlets that serve such a vital role in our communities and in our democracy.”

In lieu of conducting regional events, PEN America has set up a website where viewers can send thank you notes to journalists using the hashtag #ThankYouJournalists, and can find seven ways to support local reporting in their communities. Read more about PEN America’s advocacy on behalf of its journalist members, including the organization’s lawsuit against President Trump for using the powers of his office to punish reporters.

Since 1993, the United Nations has marked World Press Freedom Day on May 3. In many countries, it has been an opportunity to affirm the fundamental principles of press freedom, celebrate the positive impact journalism has on communities, honor journalists for their work to hold the powerful accountable, and stand up on behalf of those who have been silenced, imprisoned, or killed.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, sfee@pen.org, +1 202 309 8892