Power of the press essay

Though these institutions may be tested, there is ample reason to hope that U.

The New Media’s Role in Politics | OpenMind

A greater danger is that the United States will stop being a model and aspirational standard for other countries. Protection of press freedom in the United States remains vital to the defense and expansion of press freedom worldwide; indeed, it is a cornerstone of global democracy. When political leaders in the United States lambaste the media, it encourages their counterparts abroad to do the same. When U. The sobering alternative model, seen in authoritarian countries, is to extinguish press freedom, the better to allow a political party, movement, or leader to control information—and to use that control to retain power indefinitely.

Further weakening of press freedom in the United States would be a setback for democracy everywhere. Press freedom worldwide deteriorated to its lowest point in 13 years in , driven by unprecedented threats to journalists and media outlets in major democracies, intensified crackdowns on independent media in authoritarian settings, and moves by the Russian and Chinese regimes to increase their influence beyond their borders.

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Political leaders and other partisan forces in many democracies—including the United States, Poland, the Philippines, and South Africa—attacked the credibility of the independent and mainstream media through alarmingly hostile rhetoric, personalized abuse online, and indirect editorial pressure. They sought to delegitimize critical or impartial sources of information and reshape news coverage to their advantage, apparently rejecting the traditional watchdog role of a free press in democratic societies.

Meanwhile, pressure on journalists in more restrictive environments continued unabated. The governments of Russia and China—having established near-complete control over the domestic media—stepped up their efforts to interfere in, and disrupt, the media environments in neighboring countries and those farther afield.

And authorities in settings such as Turkey, Ethiopia, and Venezuela used political or social unrest as a pretext to crack down further on independent or opposition-oriented outlets. Officials in several countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Asia extended restrictive laws to online speech, or simply shut down telecommunications services at crucial moments. There were a few positive developments during the year, as governments in Afghanistan, Argentina, Panama, and Sri Lanka moved to establish better relations with the press and improve media environments that had suffered under their predecessors.

However, the practical effects of many of these improvements remain to be seen. Over the past year, politicians in democratic states launched or escalated efforts to shape news coverage by delegitimizing the mainstream media, exerting political influence over public broadcasters, and raising the profile of friendly private outlets. Such techniques had been seen for years in countries such as Hungary and Serbia, but they have appeared to spread rapidly since the start of , affecting countries such as the United States and Poland.

While the government in Hungary, led by the conservative Fidesz party, has been gradually consolidating its control over the media since taking power in , a new development in was the sale of several media outlets to murky ownership structures that are assumed to have close government ties.

When confronted with concerns about a chilling effect such attacks have on the media, officials have cynically invoked press freedom, intimating that advocates for the journalists targeted are calling for the censorship of progovernment media. These developments, along with the alleged surveillance of independent reporters, contributed to another sharp decline in the media environment in Serbia in Like Trump, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his spokespeople frequently insult and denounce members of the domestic media, and the prime minister rarely takes questions from reporters.

In , Netanyahu used his Facebook page to excoriate two high-profile investigative journalists, prompting several top reporters to sign a petition objecting to his conduct. He has also been accused of colluding with key media owners to shape favorable coverage.

While Israel has historically enjoyed a vibrant and pluralistic media sector, these and other problems have caused press freedom in the country to decline in recent years. Similarly, the media environment in South Africa—long considered one of the freest in sub-Saharan Africa—continued to deteriorate under President Jacob Zuma, whose government has long been highly sensitive to criticism. The politicized leadership of the public broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation SABC , sought to limit coverage of violent protests in the run-up to local elections, and fired journalists who protested the directive.

The SABC then refused to comply with an order by the communications regulator to rescind its directive, setting up a standoff between the two bodies.

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Of the 66 countries and territories designated as Not Free in Freedom of the Press , the following 10 have the worst total scores. As the media came under pressure in democratic countries, authoritarian leaders compounded the problem by seeking to increase their influence abroad. It continues to leverage pro-Kremlin reporting around the world, particularly in neighboring countries with Russian-speaking populations. Rebroadcasts of state-controlled Russian television programming, alongside the made-to-export content of the state-owned outlets RT and Sputnik, fuel distortion campaigns in much of the former Soviet space, warping perceptions of current and historical events and funneling trust away from domestic authorities.

As part of their effort to manipulate the U. Russian agencies have also been accused of building networks of artificial social media accounts to amplify certain stories among U. Hong Kong provided a powerful example of this phenomenon in , when the pro-Beijing Phoenix television network aired interviews with Chinese political prisoners, including Hong Kong booksellers held on the mainland, that featured apparently coerced statements.

The paper had recently been purchased by the mainland e-commerce giant Alibaba. A number of repressive regimes used political or social unrest as a pretext to tighten their grip on the media in Under a state of emergency declared after the failed coup, dozens of outlets were shuttered, thousands of journalists and media workers lost their jobs, and scores more were forbidden from leaving the country.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists CPJ , Turkey had at least 81 journalists behind bars as of December —the highest number in the world. The government also clamped down on the internet, blocking social media during the coup attempt and ordering websites perceived as critical to be blocked or taken down.

According to CPJ, Ethiopia holds at least 16 journalists in detention—the second-highest number in sub-Saharan Africa. The state of emergency banned people from accessing exile media or using social media to share information. Localized internet and phone blackouts were regularly reported in connection with mass assemblies.

Social media and messaging applications including WhatsApp and Twitter had become mostly inaccessible in parts of Oromia starting in March , and sporadic cuts to those and other social media services were reported in larger areas on numerous occasions later in the year. As the Venezuelan government attempted to contain unrest over the worsening economic and political crisis, it declared a state of emergency that lasted much of the year.

In August, Venezuela denied entry to at least six international journalists, including a CPJ representative, who were attempting to cover a planned protest. Those who did report from the demonstrations suffered violence at the hands of police or protesters themselves. The global decline in press freedom will likely continue in the absence of strong leadership from the United States, EU members, and other democracies. If President Donald Trump and his administration continue their harsh criticism of factual reporting and take other actions that pose a threat to the U.

It will be just as difficult for the EU to play a leading global advocacy role. A number of democracies, including individual EU member states, continue to safeguard the principles of media independence and exert a positive soft-power influence beyond their borders, but they cannot fill a void left by the United States and the EU as a whole. Without the traditional pressure from those two powers, undemocratic governments will have far less incentive to heed the warnings of press freedom advocates.

The global flow of accurate news and information will consequently weaken, and citizens, businesses, and policymakers in all countries will pay the price. The following countries are among those that may be moving toward important changes in their press freedom conditions—for better or worse—in the coming year.

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The Power of Media Essay

In , journalists and media entities in countries such as Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates suffered from the chilling effects of harassment, threats, and attacks, particularly regarding critical coverage of government officials.

Egyptian authorities restricted journalistic freedom in part through gag orders and censorship practices that suppressed criticism of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and other high-ranking officials. In Jordan, the highly publicized arrest of writer Nahed Hattar for posting an allegedly blasphemous cartoon on Facebook made him a target for vigilante justice, and he was assassinated after receiving hundreds of death threats. Also during the year, Jordanian journalists repeatedly received orders from a regulatory body to restrict what they wrote about the royal family and other sensitive subjects.

The media sector also suffered from a weak economy, with some media outlets forced to shut down and hundreds of journalists either laid off or obliged to work without regular payment. At least six journalists were killed in Yemen during , and at least nine were forcibly disappeared. In addition to the lethal dangers of working in a conflict zone, reporters had to contend with raids and arbitrary detentions by whichever de facto authority controlled a given area.

Governments and powerful individuals in many Asian countries used defamation laws and related criminal provisions to punish criticism in the media during , devoting greater attention to unfavorable commentary on social media in particular. The rising pressure on such alternative platforms was troubling given the shortage of independent reporting from the mainstream press in these countries. One activist in Xinjiang, Zhang Haitao, was sentenced to 19 years in prison for repeatedly critiquing party policies on social media and providing information to overseas outlets.

Overall, at least journalists, bloggers, Tibetans, Uighurs, and Falun Gong practitioners were sentenced to prison in , most of them for accessing or sharing information online or via social media. The government also tightened restrictions on news production by web portals and blocked additional foreign websites and applications, while major Chinese social media platforms intensified their own internal censorship of politically sensitive content.

Journalists and others faced prosecution and imprisonment under antiquated penal code provisions as well as a Telecommunications Law covering online content. Activists seeking a revision of the law found that at least 38 cases were filed under its provisions during , compared with seven from to The authorities in Cambodia stepped up monitoring of social media activity ahead of local and national elections in and , pursuing criminal cases against both prominent figures and ordinary users whose comments were considered politically sensitive.

In neighboring Laos, where the ruling party is wary of growing social media use by the youth population, three citizens were arrested under a decree banning online criticism of the government when they returned home to renew their passports, having posted the content in question on Facebook while working abroad in Thailand. Even as prosecutions under existing laws continued across the region, some countries adopted new measures to crack down on critical material.

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The Maldives passed a sweeping law that criminalized defamation and can also be used to force journalists to reveal their sources. The autocratic regimes at the core of Eurasia, the worst-performing region in the world for press freedom, maintained an iron grip on major news media in their countries during , leaving few avenues for free expression. While little changed in the Central Asian states, the governments of Azerbaijan and Russia did not hesitate to tighten constraints around the remaining pockets of critical journalism.


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In Azerbaijan, the regime of President Ilham Aliyev gave no sign that it was easing its years-long campaign against independent media and freedom of expression advocates. Security forces in Armenia showed their lack of respect for the press during another summer of mass protests, brutally assaulting several journalists who were covering the gatherings. Major countries across sub-Saharan Africa experienced declines in , as press freedom suffered from the effects of ongoing social and political unrest, election-related crackdowns, or increasingly repressive leaders.

Security forces in South Sudan intensified scrutiny of the media as the civil conflict dragged on, arresting journalists who questioned the government or reported on rights abuses.

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Security agents also deployed to printing sites to halt the publication of certain articles. The combination of such direct censorship and self-censorship motivated by harassment and fear of arrest has left citizens with a growing information vacuum. Security forces arrested or assaulted journalists covering opposition protests and citizen-led movements.

New Tanzanian president John Magufuli pursued a popular campaign to wipe out corruption, but his government also showed a worrying intolerance for criticism in the press and social media, including by launching defamation prosecutions under the Cybercrimes Act and passing a problematic Media Services Act. At least 10 people had been charged with insulting the president under the Cybercrimes Act by the end of Police seeking information on similar online comments also arrested and charged Maxence Melo, the cofounder of Jamii Forums, a popular online discussion portal that is often used to disseminate information about corruption and other controversial issues.

The media in Burundi, in the aftermath of a violent government crackdown on independent outlets in , have settled into an atmosphere of pervasive self-censorship. In Zimbabwe, the ruling party sought to shut down reporting on a new popular protest movement, with police beating and arresting those who covered the demonstrations.

And in Zambia, the ruling Patriotic Front interfered with critical coverage both before and after August general elections, arresting journalists on spurious charges that were frequently dropped once the case reached the courts. Journalists in the Americas faced an increase in violence, lawsuits, and police interference in Bolivia experienced severe setbacks for press freedom, adding to gradual deterioration over the past decade.

The pattern of extreme violence against journalists in several Latin American countries continued unabated in The number of murders in Mexico rose, according to some sources, especially for reporters covering police abuses, drug trafficking, and governmental corruption. While El Salvador has traditionally had less violence against journalists despite its high overall homicide rate, intimidation of the media has increased there as well. Protection mechanisms have been put in place in a number of countries, but their effectiveness is still limited by problems such as bureaucratic rivalries, insufficient funding, and lack of training.

The lawsuits were apparently coordinated, using similar language, but were spread out geographically, forcing the journalists to spend considerable resources traveling between the courts.