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.
Spoiler: Hungary have benefitted enormously by joining the EU. Joining the EU meant that Hungarians were guaranteed civil rights that were unthinkable when Hungary was a communist country. The EU membership also meant that living standards increased to levels far higher than before. Hungary has also received more of EU funding than average of the ten countries that joined the EU in 2010. Despite this, Orbán has since he became prime minister, again 2010, set out on a path violating Hungarians’ civil rights, freedom of the press and rule of law. These are steps towards a more autocratic and corrupt society where elites are free to enrich themselves.
Spoiler: The number of democracies has fallen during the last decade. For the first time since 2002, there are now more autocracies than democracies in the world. The EU now has its first autocracy, Hungary.
The Polish government is following close in the path to autocracy. The governments in Hungary and Poland have systematically attacked the media’s and judiciary’s independence the last years. Without an independent media and judiciary, the regimes’ next step on the road to autocracy is to manipulate the elections.
The corona virus has made it necessary to implement measures restricting the freedom om movement and assembly. While these are justifiable measures which will be revoked in most countries, the Hungarian government wants to use the state of emergency powers in ways that violate civil rights also after the Corona crisis is over.
These developments are deeply worrying. Russia under Putin provides a horrifying example of how autocratic leaders abuse their powers at the expense of human rights.
Spoiler: Corruption is cancer. It incurs welfare losses by distorting households’ and firms’ consumption and investment decisions. It increases inequality and environmental damages. It reduces trust between people and between people and public authorities.
It is lower in democracies with a free press and an independent judiciary. It is and was higher in autocratic countries. It is lower in market economies. Socialist countries are and were also autocratic, and corruption is and was pervasive in these countries. Corruption is weaker in former socialist countries that have become more democratic.
EU makes a difference. Corruption is higher in non-EU former Soviet republics and East-European countries. But once inside EU, Member States can again turn autocratic and become more corrupt.