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Freedom House Report Describes New Methods of Media Repression


FILE - A Trump supporter holds a T-shirt reading "You Are Fake News" before a rally by President Donald Trump in Rochester, Minn., Oct. 4, 2018. Freedom House says that democracy in the U.S. weakened significantly and blames U.S. President Donald Trump.
Freedom House Report Describes New Methods of Media Repression
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A new report by Freedom House finds that leaders are using new methods for repressing independent journalism around the world.

The United States-based group released its “Freedom and the Media 2019” report on Wednesday. It says attacks on press freedom have come from “an unexpected source” -- leaders of countries with traditionally free media environments.

Freedom House called American President Donald Trump’s public criticism of the press “perhaps the most concerning development of recent years.” The report says, “Among other steps, the president has repeatedly threatened to strengthen libel laws, revoke the licenses of certain broadcasters, and damage media owners’ other business interests.”

The U.S. Constitution, the report notes, strongly protects against such actions. Yet, it argues that Trump’s public comments have had a clear effect on the worldwide media environment.

Freedom House also describes worsening press conditions in several European countries, including Hungary and Serbia. Leaders of both countries have taken steps to make sure that media with the widest reach support the government and criticize any possible opponents.

People protest after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivered his annual state of the nation address in Budapest, Hungary, Feb. 10, 2019.
People protest after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivered his annual state of the nation address in Budapest, Hungary, Feb. 10, 2019.

Also in Europe, leaders of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria have increasingly accused some reporters and news organizations of spreading lies - without evidence to support these claims. The Freedom Party was, until recently, part of the country’s ruling coalition.

The report also makes note of a decrease in media freedom in Israel, one of the few democracies in the Middle East. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces corruption charges for reportedly offering promises to two media organizations in exchange for positive coverage of him and his government.

In India, the ruling Bharatiya Janata party has supported campaigns aimed at limiting speech that is “anti-national.” The report says criminals connected to the government have raided the homes and offices of reporters who have published stories critical of the government.

China’s expanding media influence

Freedom House also describes China’s growing influence over media production overseas.

Sarah Repucci is Freedom House’s director for research and analysis. She told VOA, “China is not only repressing the media at home, which we've been seeing for many years…But increasingly they are exporting their model of media repression to other countries.”

The report notes increased efforts by Chinese officials and diplomats to suppress critical opinions about China and control media content in other countries.

Freedom House adds that China has improved “its ability to interfere aggressively in other countries, should it choose to do so.”

Attendees pick up copies of a book on the governance of Chinese President Xi Jinping at the media center for the Second Belt and Road Forum In Beijing on April 26, 2019.
Attendees pick up copies of a book on the governance of Chinese President Xi Jinping at the media center for the Second Belt and Road Forum In Beijing on April 26, 2019.

Improved press freedoms

Freedom House has documented a decrease in democracy and press freedom worldwide over the past 10 years. But its latest report does note improvements in some countries. It says Ethiopia, Malaysia, Armenia, Ecuador and The Gambia all have seen improvements in both areas.

In Ethiopia, for example, media groups that had been operating from overseas have been able to return to the country. Exiled journalists from The Gambia also have returned to the country. Both Malaysia and Ecuador have seen a rise in independent media groups that are operating free from restrictions on content.

Freedom House’s Sarah Repucci said such signs have made her hopeful for improvement in other countries in the future. “We definitely have a lot of hope…that it will spread to some of the countries like Sudan and Algeria [and] Venezuela, where the population is really fighting right now.”

I’m Ashley Thompson.

Ashley Thompson wrote this report based on Freedom House's "Freedom of the Media 2019" report and VOA report Ramon Taylor's interview with Sarah Repucci. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

journalism - n. the activity or job of collecting, writing, and editing news stories for newspapers, magazines, television, or radio

perhaps - adv. possibly but not certainly

libel - n. the act of publishing a false statement that causes people to have a bad opinion of someone

source - n. a person, book, etc., that gives information

revoke - v. to officially cancel the power or effect of (something, such as a law, license, agreement, etc.) : to make (something) not valid

license - n. an official document, card, etc., that gives you permission to do, use, or have something

positive - adj. good or useful

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