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Our Freedoms Depend on Press Freedom

With half the world’s population casting ballots in elections this year, independent reporting on the candidates and the issues is essential. Yet from Washington and Westminster to Buenos Aires and Budapest, efforts to intimidate, curtail, and constrain the free press are becoming more frequent and brazen.

NEW YORK – In just the first week of this year, at least 18 journalists were assaulted or harassed while covering alleged election irregularities and violence in Bangladesh. Then, in early February, journalists in Pakistan were hindered from covering elections by a wave of violence, widespread internet blackouts, and mobile-network suspensions. In March, journalists in Turkey had been shot at and banned from observing local elections, despite their legal right to do so.

It was a worrying, but not especially surprising, start to this “super election year.” With half the world’s population casting ballots, independent reporting on the candidates and the issues is essential. Yet attacks on the media are rising, even in more mature democracies. In the United States, Donald Trump’s return as a candidate has brought back fresh memories of January 6, 2021, when his supporters stormed the Capitol, lunged at journalists and destroyed their cameras, and scribbled “Murder the media” on the doors.

Such examples are illustrative of a broader problem. From the US to India, hard-won freedoms and rights are being eroded. In 2023, the V-Dem Institute, which monitors democracy around the world, published a report warning that the progress made toward democratization since 1989 is being reversed. The authors identify increased attacks on journalists as a leading indicator of autocratization: “Aspects of freedom of expression and the media are the ones ‘wannabe dictators’ attack the most and often first.”