Limiting Media Freedom in Democratic States

Erich de la Fuente, UNU-MERIT

Democracy and news media freedom often have been assumed to have an intrinsic link, but by the mid-2010s, reports from international watchdog organizations pointed to a new reality: The existence of democratic countries with declining press freedom. The objective of this research was to understand how governments influence news media freedom in young democracies in the digital era. It also sought to identify the main categories of instruments used to curb media freedom, what the individual instruments used in each category were, and how governments have used those instruments to influence the editorial content of media outlets. The research’s findings led to a principal conclusion: Even in free democracies, and especially young ones, governments can and do use subtle, difficult-to-detect tools to curb media freedom to maintain power. Preferred instruments fell into two categories—economic pressure and threats and harassment. Employing subtle media control instruments can be an early sign of declining levels of media freedom in free democracies. If they are not thwarted, they can erode press freedom, a key pillar of democracy. Governments that move from free to illiberal democracies are likely to curb media freedom during this process, as it can help them remain in power. Many likely will have sought to limit press freedom through subtle means until they reached a “visibility threshold.” At this point their media control efforts become apparent and these instruments are put aside in favor of more visible and overt tools as the country’s democracy slides from free to partly free. ?

Venue: Aula, Minderbroedersberg 4-6, Maastricht

Date: 24 June 2022

Time: 10:00 - 11:30  CEST