- Press freedom is under attack in some of the world’s most influential democracies, according to a new report by US-based think tank Freedom House.
- The trend appears to be most prevalent in Europe, where democracies have previously flourished, as well as Eurasia and the Middle East.
- But the think tank said declining in the US is among the “most concerning,” as violence and threats against journalists have spiked under the Trump administration.
Press freedom is under attack in some of the world’s most influential democracies, according to new report by the US-based Freedom House think tank.
According to the group’s annual report, press freedom around the world is in a “downward spiral”, particularly in some of the world’s leading democracies.
Globally, the group reports that there has been an increase in efforts to suppress the media over the past decade in both authoritarian countries and in democracies where respect for press freedom has traditonally been strong.
“Elected leaders in many democracies, who should be press freedom’s staunchest defenders, have made explicit attempts to silence critical media voices and strengthen outlets that serve up favourable coverage,” the report said.
The trend appears to be most prevalent in Europe, as well as Eurasia and the Middle East. Common methods of silencing journalism include “government-backed ownership changes, regulatory and financial pressure, and public denunciations of honest journalists,” it said.
“The goal is to make the press serve those in power rather than the public.”
The report cites Viktor Orbán’s government in Hungary and Aleksandar Vučić’s government in Serbia, which have both leveraged the right-wing populist movement sweeping through Europe and have taken drastic steps to silence critical voices in recent years.
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing criminal indictments over allegations that he offered regulatory passes to media outlets in exchange for favourable coverage.
But changes in the US are among the “most concerning,” according to the report.
President Donald Trump has upped his attacks on journalists in recent months, blasting several independent media outlets as “fake news” and frequently referring to media that air unflattering news stories about his administration as “the enemy of the people.” The US has also seen an increase in violence and threats against journalists.
“Trump’s continual vilification of the press has seriously exacerbated an ongoing erosion of public confidence in the mainstream media,” the report said.
Recent polls suggest Americans are more concerned about the spread of “fake news” than they are other issues like climate change, terrorism, illegal immigration, racism, and sexism.
While the drop in global press freedom is a cause for concern, Freedom House notes, crackdowns on independent media have a profound effect on the functioning of democracies as a whole.
“The trend is linked to a global decline in democracy itself: The erosion of press freedom is both a symptom of and a contributor to the breakdown of other democratic institutions and principles, a fact that makes it especially alarming.”
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