Spoiler: Today, 3rd of May, is World Press Freedom Day 2020. Press Freedom is a crucial civil liberty. It is part of the United Nation’s declaration of human rights. Press Freedom is also guaranteed in many countries’ constitutions. Nevertheless, press freedom is under duress in many countries and journalists are being harassed, jailed and killed by authoritarian regimes.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 10 journalists have been killed and 64 gone missing during the first four months of this year. If this development continues, around 3000 journalists will be killed or missing at the end of the year.
Press Freedom is one of the key liberties that characterise democracies. It is therefore not surprising that authoritarian leaders who aim to deconstruct democracy begin by abolishing Press Freedom.
Without any freedom of the press, authoritarian and corrupt regimes can undisturbedly abolish judiciary independence, attack the civil society, manipulate elections and attack opposition leaders.
While most authoritarian regimes and dictatorships restrict themselves to attack media in their own countries, the Chinese communist regime is attacking media abroad.
Democracy is in retreat. The number of autocracies again outnumber the number of democracies in the world as shown by V-Dem . Since press freedom is weaker in autocracies, the number of countries where the media is under duress, has also increased. And most of the earth’s population live in countries where the free media is under attack, c.f. Map 1.
Map 1. Press Freedom Index 2020.
Censorship in the world has increased since 2000
As I showed here, it is essential for autocratic regimes and leaders to attack the media. That allows them to enrich themselves and abuse human rights in peace from curious journalists. The means to suppress freedom of information take many shapes including censorship efforts by the governments which have increased between 2000 and 2019, c.f. Figure 1.
Figure 1. Government censorship efforts 2000 and 2019.
Source: V-Dem, Varieties of Democracy https://www.v-dem.net/en/ Note: The indicator ranges from 0 to 4 where 0 indicates a direct and routine attempts to censor and 4 indicates absence of censorship.
The deterioration of press freedom is depressing and reversing the situation following the collapse of Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union. At that time, when many countries became free again, there was a clear improvement of the situation for the media in those and other countries. Government censorship efforts therefore declined between 1991 and 2000. However, the rise of authoritarianism since then has been accompanied by increased cencorship, c.f. Table 1.
Table 1. Changes in government censorship efforts 1991-2000 and 2000-2019.
Source: V-Dem, Varieties of Democracy https://www.v-dem.net/en/ Note: The number of countries in the data set for 1991 includes four countries less.
Oppressing the media makes it easier to manipulate elections
The worrying developments of autocracy that are analysed and recorded by V-Dem, follow after the worsening of conditions for media. Having control of the media makes is necessary if you want to manipulate the elections. In countries with less censorship efforts, elections therefore are freer, c.f. Figure 2.
Figure 2. Government censorship efforts vs Clean elections in 2019.
Source: V-Dem, Varieties of Democracy https://www.v-dem.net/en/ Note: Free and fair connotes an absence of registration fraud, systematic irregularities, government intimidation of the opposition, vote buying, and election violence.
Corruption is strong where press freedom is weak
Even the EU countries, Hungary and Poland have taken the first steps on the road to autocracy, see here. Most of the media in those countries are now under government control. Following this, see here, Orbán has enriched himself and his cronies making Hungary one of the most corrupt countries in Europe. (Russia is of course the most corrupt country in Europe which can be seen here).
Without any free press to report about nefarious management of procurement process and contracts for large infrastructure projects, the political elites in Hungary, Russia and other corrupt countries are free to enrich themselves on behalf of the taxpayers, c.f. Figure 3.
Figure 3. Freedom of the press vs corruption.
As I showed in this post, the first thing Putin did when Yeltsin made him president, was to take control of the media. Having done that, he abolished the judiciary’s independence, manipulated elections, clamped down on the civil society, journalists, opposition leaders and parties. Furthermore, he has grossly violated his population’s civil rights and even used murder as one of his means.The absence of press freedom in Russia doesn’t prevent the hypocritical regime from tweeting nonsense like this:
Suppressing press freedom is dangerous also in other ways which the Corona crisis has showed. The Corona virus originates from China. According to all independent analyses, there is no freedom of the press: Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Reporters without Borders, Committee to Protect Journalists.
As is well known by now, the Chinese authorities tried to cover-up the outbreak, didn’t warn the public and persecuted medical staff who were concerned and try to sound the alarm.
The communist regime in Beijing is attacking our media
Being a Swede, I pride myself of living in the country which has the first press freedom law. It was established in 1776. But the ambassador from China, a country where the people never have enjoyed either press freedom or any other freedom, shows no respect for our media and press freedom.
Though the Chinese communist regime has abandoned mass murderer Mao’s disastrous economic policy, it shares Mao’s regime’s contempt of human rights. One well-known example is the kidnapping of the Swedish publisher Gua Minhai in Thailand. His case is well described by his daughter here who campaigns for his release. As if the kidnapping of a Swedish citizen wasn’t bad enough, the communist regime has attacked Swedish media, well-known authors, the Swedish branch of the international organisation for free speech, and members of the Swedish government who awarded Gua Minhai this year’s Tucholsky prize.
The behaviour of the Chinese ambassador has raised more than one pair of eyebrows over the world, see here, here and here. For even more Chinese absurdities, have a look at the website of the Chinese embassy in Sweden.
Sweden is not the only country being attacked by the Chinese. This map from Freedom House summarises some of the most well-known attempts by the Chinese regime to influence or silence critics in other countries, c.f. Map 2.
Map 2. Beijing’s censorship efforts outside of China.
The Chinese regime hates to admit its mistakes and therefore launched a disinformation attack trying to blame USA for the Corona virus. When called out by the European Commission, China tried to stop the report or at least soften it.
Oh, and this picture is now allowed in China: