Since its foundation in 1923, the Republic of Turkey has endured three military coups against democratically elected governments, in 1960, 1971, and 1980. A fourth military intervention—in the form of an ultimatum—brought down a coalition government led by the Islamist Refah Partisi (Welfare Party) in 1997. Since 2002, however, the Adelet ve Kalkına Partisi (Justice and Development Party, or AKP) has consolidated power, offering a platform of political conservatism with an Islamic bent and neoliberal economic development that has garnered unprecedented popular support.
In an op-ed published in the New York Times last April, we took a cautiously optimistic view on the possibility of a breakthrough for media freedom in post-Mubarak Egypt. We argued that if state-controlled media, especially television, underwent serious reform, it would tip the balance toward an open information landscape, particularly when combined with the revolution in online social media in the country.
Now, one year since the January 25, 2011, onset of the uprising in Egypt, we are far more cautious than optimistic.
As we mark the first anniversary of the events that led to the Arab Spring, it is worth highlighting the uprisings’ far-reaching repercussions for freedom, both in the region and beyond. Freedom in the World, the report on global freedom issued annually by Freedom House, found more declines than gains worldwide for 2011, but we believe that the overarching message for the year is one of hope and not reversal.
On December 28, with little fanfare, Russia’s foreign ministry released a 90-page human rights report on the United States, Canada, and assorted European countries. There is no accompanying introduction, preface, or methodology for this rather slapdash document, entitled On the Human Rights Situation in a Number of the World’s States, but the selection of countries and their respective treatment makes it fairly clear that the report is meant to be a stick in the eye of the Kremlin’s perceived enemies, rather than any genuine attempt to promote human rights around the world.
As the showdown escalated between Chinese security forces and residents of Wukan, where villagers revolted against the Chinese Communist Party, you didn’t find as much discussion of the incident in Chinese social media as you might expect. And it wasn’t only because the internet was shut off in the town.
There is never a dull moment for the media sphere in China, home to the most elaborate censorship apparatus in the world. Drawing on nearly 40 issues of the China Media Bulletin, Freedom House staff have identified the following as the year’s worst and weirdest developments surrounding press and internet freedom in China.
In a startling one-two punch, China’s Communist regime won accolades last week from high-profile representatives of U.S. business and labor writing in America’s leading national newspapers. In the Wall Street Journal on December 1, former service workers’ union president Andy Stern touted China’s “superior economic model,” and in the New York Times on December 2, prominent Wall Street potentate Steven Rattner offered his guarantee that China’s speeding economic locomotive would remain firmly on track.
Last week I joined a delegation of leading freedom of expression organizations in Hungary to assess the impact of much criticized media legislation that went into effect in January. Discussions with dozens of journalists, media officials, regulation authorities, and government representatives validated the serious concerns expressed by international press freedom experts since the law was passed last December.
Threats to media freedom inSouth Africa—which has had one of the most open press environments on the continent since the end of apartheid more than 15 years ago—have increased in recent years, raising fears of backsliding in a country seen as a model in the region. These threats have occurred in the context of multiple challenges to democratic consolidation, including recent encroachments on judicial independence and other institutions that provide checks and balances on executive power. In addition, an upsurge of inflammatory rhetoric directed at the white minority, particularly by the faction headed by Julius Malema, president of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) Youth League, has led to the overt injection of race into various debates on political and socioeconomic issues and resulted in increased self-censorship by non-blacks on a range of issues.