In democracies and authoritarian states alike, leaders intent on consolidating power are finding new ways to repress independent journalism, a report released today by Freedom House finds.
The Chinese Communist Party has rapidly expanded its influence over media production and dissemination channels abroad. Beijing influences news coverage around the world by suppressing critical viewpoints and managing important content delivery systems.
Meanwhile, antidemocratic leaders in fragile democracies have attempted to tame the media by deploying economic, legal, and extralegal tools to silence critical journalists and bolster friendly outlets. A lack of trust in mainstream news sources, an onslaught of disinformation, and a shortage of sustainable business models all grind down the media sector, laying the groundwork for co-optation by ill-intentioned political actors.
“In some of the most influential democracies in the world, populist leaders have overseen a concerted attempt to throttle the independence of the media,” said Sarah Repucci, senior director for research and analysis. “While threats to global media freedom are concerning in their own right, their effect on the state of democracy is what makes them truly dangerous.”
Freedom House’s new report, Freedom and the Media 2019, notes the global impact of rhetorical attacks against the media by President Donald Trump. Journalists around the world now have less reason to believe that Washington will come to their aid if their basic rights are violated.
Although US legal protections for media freedom remain strong, President Trump’s continual vilification of the press has seriously exacerbated an ongoing erosion of public confidence in mainstream outlets. Among other steps, the president has repeatedly threatened to strengthen libel laws, revoke the licenses of certain broadcasters, and damage media owners’ other business interests.
The report also highlights the positive relationship between strengthening media freedoms and democratic progress in countries including Ethiopia, Malaysia, Ecuador, and The Gambia.
“Experience has shown that press freedom can rebound from even lengthy stints of repression when given the opportunity,” said Repucci. “The basic desire for democratic liberties, including honest and fact-based journalism, cannot be extinguished.”