Authoritarian leaders around the world are increasingly confident of their ruleby John Lloyd / August 12, 2017 / Leave a comment
Journalism is in a delicate state in the world. The time at the turn of the century when it seemed to be secure in freedom, is gone. As June Jodie Ginsberg, the CEO of Index on Censorship, has observed “it does seem as if the world is more authoritarian now.”
Authoritarian leaders are increasingly confident of their rule, and the subaltern role of their news media. As democratic states in Europe and America weaken, they assert more firmly that journalism is too important to be left to journalists, since politicians can better judge what information and opinions will secure good government.
It is the autocratic leader, in large command of what can and cannot be said and shown—while providing the most engrossing, patriotic and popular entertainment—who now provides a template for despots and semi-democrats. It’s a style honed in Russia and China, applied in Turkey, Egypt and Ethiopia, elements of which are adopted in Poland, Hungary and Slovakia. In democratic states a weak but electorally-effective form was pioneered under Silvio Berlusconi’s Italian premierships in the 1990s and 2000s.
In August 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping, told the National Propaganda and Ideology Work Conference that workers in propaganda and ideology—that is, the media—had become lax: “they speak without restraint… cheered on by hostile forces.”
Western countries, he said, “flaunt ‘press freedom,’ but in fact, they also have ideological baselines… there are no completely independent media.” This is a correct observation: but one which neglects that independence from state and government is the indispensable baseline for a journalism which can claim autonomy and rights.
After his speech, Chinese journalism, which in the early 2000s had developed (gently) critical editorialising and done several important investigations, was buttoned up. So, in different ways, was journalism in other autocratic states. Russian President Vladimir Putin progressively took over the oligarchic broadcast channels and brought the main newspapers and magazines into line—while leaving some space for impoverished liberal media, exhibits to quieten critics.
In Turkey, news media largely controlled by different industrial groups, some allied to the exiled imam Muhammed Fethullah Gülen, allegedly the inspiration of last year’s coup—have been either closed or disciplined to obedience. In Egypt, after the assumption of power (by acclamation) by Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in 2014, a…