‘Downward spiral’ of media repression in authoritarian states – and open societies


In democracies and authoritarian states alike, leaders intent on consolidating power are finding new ways to repress independent journalism, according to a report released today by Freedom House.

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, say the authors of Freedom and the Media 2019. 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, the report adds.

“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.”

Democracies are increasingly targeting journalists to ferret out leaks, silence critics and punish information sharing, The New York Times adds. But even among its peers, Australia stands out. No other developed democracy holds as tight to its secrets, experts say, and the raids are just the latest example of how far the country’s conservative government will go to scare officials and reporters into submission, Damien Cave reports.

“To be perfectly frank, this is an absolute international embarrassment,” said Johan Lidberg, an associate professor of journalism at Monash University in Melbourne who works with the United Nations on global press freedom. “You’ve got a mature liberal democracy that pursues and hunts down whistle-blowers and tries to kill the messenger.”

For years, the road to news media financial sustainability was said to be paved with data, and digital news outlets were counseled to collect as many details about their readers as possible in order to deliver more relevant content and support more lucrative, targeted advertising, the Center for International Media Assistance adds. Yet, more recently, citizens and policymakers alike have grown concerned about the pervasive tracking of web users, which often happens without their knowledge or consent. This has led to a new wave of data protection laws and regulations worldwide that seek to empower audiences and curtail the excessive collection of personal data.

Caught in the middle of this are small, independent news outlets, many of which have enabled third-party tracking mechanisms on their sites for a variety of legitimate reasons. New analysis of 50 small, independent news websites in 10 developing countries, soon-to-be-released in a CIMA report by Ayden Férdeline, show that many entail trackers sending personal information to third parties without a web visitor’s knowledge or consent. In an era of growing awareness of the need to protect user data and privacy, what can independent media do to ensure the safety of their readers? Please register to attend here, or watch the livestream.


Danilo Bakovic, Project Director, IREX

Ayden Férdeline, Tech Policy Fellow, Mozilla Foundation

Nathalie Maréchal, Senior Research Analyst, Ranking Digital Rights


Daniel O’Maley, Deputy Editor and Digital Policy Specialist, Center for International Media Assistance

Thursday, June 6, 3:00-5:00pm EDT

Light refreshments served 3:00-3:15pm

National Endowment for Democracy

1025 F Street NW, Suite 800

Washington, DC 20004


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