(Natural News) The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a huge toll on press freedom, with geopolitical tensions exacerbating the issue further. For instance, in Hong Kong, media company Next Digital said it was shutting down in response to the new Chinese Communist Party restrictions that made it impossible to continue operating.
Independent non-executive director of Next Digital’s board Mark Clifford said that the climate of feat is unbelievable. Unlike the kleptocracy of Russia, the Chinese government does not want money: They just want to silence the voice of the public.
The move shattered the hopes of activists of ever finding a vibrant free press ecosystem to ever exist in Hong Kong following the passage of a national security law imposed by Beijing.
Democracy dies as authoritarianism rises
Hong Kong isn’t alone in this fight. In fact, several countries hinging on democracy have seen press freedoms fall apart in response to rising authoritarian regimes.
- Afghanistan: The vibrant press scene has been transformed radically and suddenly by the Taliban takeover in the last month. In a short span of time, the Taliban has taken power and has been beating and arresting journalists in the process. (Related: America’s mass surveillance is eroding freedom of the press, freedom of speech and democracy.)
- Belarus: Belarusian President Alexandre Lukashenko took drastic measures to target the press, including changes to media laws that make it harder for journalists to report.
- Hungary: Several countries like Hungary introduced “fake news” laws in an attempt to curb the spread of unverified reports on social media. These efforts, however, are not meant to discourage misinformation. Rather, it is used to empower autocrats.
- India: The government stepped up by way of legally harassing journalists through its sedition law: India’s media outlets are challenging new rules that include digital media, which is a warning sign of government censorship.
- Myanmar: The military junta has arrested over 70 journalists, revoked licenses of independent media outlets, and even blocked internet access.
- Philippines: The government under President Rodrigo Duterte forced the closure of a critical broadcasting company and charges were brought against prominent journalist and IPI Board member Maria Ressa.
IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said that the rise in open attacks on press freedom and the targeting of journalists is an ominous sign for the future. “Press freedom is under assault everywhere we look, with tactics and methods for doing so being shared and copied by governments. Anti-democratic regimes increasingly feel that they can silence the media with impunity. This has a domino effect, encouraging other states to follow suit,” she said.
She also noted that the pandemic and its accompanying states of emergency had provided a cover for governments to put in new systems and norms that encourage censorship. There are risks that these norms will outlast the virus and become more permanent insofar as journalism is concerned.
Additionally, she noted that independent journalism is necessary for moments of crisis: There is a need for urgent, collective response by the international community to defend press freedom as a pillar of free and democratic societies.
The rise of authoritarianism and “illiberal” democracy contributes to a global decline in press freedom. There are many countries that have repressed journalism.
COVID-19 worsens negative trends
The pandemic also added to the blow of press freedom as governments try to stifle independent media. An alarming number of journalists have come under attack for their coverage of the health crisis: numerous states imposed restrictions to access of information, preventing journalists from speaking with health officials or medical workers.
Fake news laws were also enacted in at least 18 jurisdictions. While these laws provide governments with new tools to control the flow of news and information.
Impunity for killing journalists around the world remains the norm. While some may be occasionally sentenced for his roles, the masterminds, journalists, and murderers didn’t seem to face justice.
Read more about how governments are trying to stifle the press and more at FreePress.news.