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June 15, 2019

Sound of silence


June 15, 2019

The press is increasingly failing to project the voices of dissent around the world, as democratic governments crack down on independent journalism. The Washington-based human rights watchdog Freedom House has stated in a new publication that freedom for the print media has suffered a notable decline in both the US and Europe. This is linked to the open vilification of the press in the US under President Donald Trump, with the same trend also reflected in other major democracies. Outside Europe, India is an example of this, with an increasingly uniform pro-government view converging to form a whole even when it comes from a wide variety of print media organizations. As a result of this global trend, “large segments of the population”, according to Freedom House, are no longer receiving unbiased news as

leaders present themselves as ‘defenders’ of a majority which is in one way or the other aggrieved.

This relatively new trend ties in to older trends where totalitarian governments which have traditionally suppressed dissent continue to impose their vision on large newspapers. Smaller European governments have also been snuffing out dissident voices. There is some good news. Countries like Ethiopia, Malaysia, Ecuador and Gambia, according to the report, have succeeded in strengthening press freedom, with this development coinciding with solid democratic development.

The examples from these nations show that long periods of repression can quickly give way to change in the right climate.

The issue is one that needs to be studied in greater depth by analysts and researchers. A weakening print media has contributed to the ability of leaders to crush it. Newspaper and magazine circulation has been registering a fall globally according to statistical surveys, and in nations like the UK, a hub for many publications, the crushing of the print unions under a campaign led by media moguls in the mid-1980s led to a progressive collapse of the ability of independent journalists to make their voices heard. Groups involved in analysing media have also noted the increasing uniformity of views expressed as ideological divergence disappears.

For consumers of news, the trend is a dangerous one. It may mean that no matter where they live in the world, they do not receive a variety of opinions and a variance in news content. They thus have more limited material on which to base their thoughts and the knowledge they receive may not reflect the entire spectrum of debate. The quest for objectivity in journalism has perhaps always been an ideal rather an attainable object. But in today’s world, it seems the ideal lies further away than ever before, with only a narrow band of opinions and news being put across to readers everywhere in the world.

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