The Slippery Slope of Press Freedom Crackdowns
Governments that choose the path of media repression often pass by familiar landmarks as they descend into authoritarian rule.
Many countries have suffered dramatic declines in press freedom over the past decade or more, according to the latest edition of Freedom House’s annual Freedom of the Press report. But each has fallen from a different starting point, resulting in a great variety of media environments.
While it would be a mistake to suggest that conditions in all of these countries are the same, there are certain echoes and patterns in their governments’ actions as they expand their crackdowns on the press: Restrictive new legislation is adopted. Private owners are pressured into selling their outlets or firing their staff. Journalists are attacked or imprisoned.
In the examples below, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez began their assaults on the media many years ago, and both countries’ media environments are now designated Not Free, but their regimes continue to take repressive actions today. Hungary is one of the more recent battlegrounds for press freedom, deteriorating sharply since 2010. Poland’s decline began only at the end of 2015, and already the same sorts of practices have started to appear.
Analyses and recommendations offered by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of Freedom House.
President Raúl Castro introduced market reforms in Cuba earlier this year to preserve, not dismantle, the communist system. He retains a tight grip on power and seems intent on pursuing a Chinese model of market economics combined with political repression. The reforms have, however, brought about a significant change in attitudes in Cuba, according to a recent Freedom House survey. Optimism is growing, expectations are rising, and Cubans want more freedom. Will the Chinese model work in Cuba?
When Belarus’s authoritarian ruler, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, goes to ski in Russia, it is rarely just for a nice vacation. The southern Russian resort town of Sochi, planned site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, is a favored spot for Belarusian and Russian officials to gather and discuss bilateral relations in a relaxing setting. Lukashenka’s trip to Sochi last month was no exception, with official Belarusian media duly reporting that his time on the slopes would be combined with a working visit.
The news that the government of Ecuador granted political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has quite properly triggered numerous commentaries on the irony—or better yet, hypocrisy—of Assange seeking help from Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa, one of the world’s leading adversaries of press freedom. Assange made his bid for asylum after the British authorities agreed to deport him to Sweden, where he has been charged with sexually assaulting two women.
We've included in this blog post a shortened version of the Ecuador chapter from Freedom of the Press 2012, which covers the year 2011.