The Centre for the Future of Democracy at Cambridge University recently stated that: ‘Democracy is in a state of malaise.’ It’s not been like this since the 1930s. Now, Facebook refuses to police its political ads which aid and abet liars. And the world’s democracies are not seen to be doing much about it.
Trusted and reliable sources of news and information are under threat with fewer outlets and less journalists, partly because of the digital revolution. But this media upheaval has also resulted in unfettered ‘fake news’ which in many cases is notable for an almost complete abandonment of journalistic standards.
The world has leaders like Erdoğan in Turkey, Duterte in The Philipines, Modi in India, Putin in Russia. All of them attempt to control or deligitimise news media because they view them as a threat to their autocratic agendas.
Many of the leaders refuse to be interviewed by journalists who they deem hostile. These are people, from the Right and Far Right, who propagate populism and lies. They have wound back democracy in recent years. They are all politicians in democracies or former democracies. Of them, Modi has never held a press conference and the White House press secretary has not held a briefing for six months. It is done now on social media, where there are no questions. After evading the press for several days, Winston Peters used Facebook to try to explain his party’s funding issues. He is not willing to face journalists, least of all Guyon Espiner.
If you look at the world map published by Freedom House in 2018, you can see many former colonies, who were bequeathed democracy but have seen it taken from them by a local strongman.
Strongmen, or potential strongmen in older democracies, are often only restrained. Flimsy British procedures only just stopped Johnson from, illegally, proroguing parliament. Are we prepared for that eventuality? Freedom House says tyranny is advancing. So does Reporters Without Borders which has this to say about threats to journalists and press freedoms:
The 2019 World Press Freedom Index compiled by the organisation shows how ‘hatred of journalists has degenerated into violence, contributing to an increase in fear. The number of countries regarded as safe, where journalists can work in complete security, continues to decline, while authoritarian regimes continue to tighten their grip on the media’.
It used to be thought it was only the newly planted and immature democracies that were under threat. We in NZ, may be under threat, while we sleep at the wheel. Perhaps we should consider the suitability of Germany’s 2017, Network Enforcement Act to control social media.
The Germans have experience of a democratically elected government becoming a dictatorship, which is why they have MMP. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has said that liberal democracy is being challenged and questioned and compared it with the loss of democracy in Germany in the 1930s. And here’s a graph from the Committee to Protect Journalists:ers
- 6 journalists killed in 2020
- 250 imprisoned in 2019
- 64 missing globally.
None of this should come as a surprise, but the stats remain as a reminder of how dangerous it is to report from countries under strongman leadership. Hitler suppressed a free press, so did Stalin, MaoTse Tung, and Mussolini to name a few. They were all dictators. And so too are their 21st centuries imitators.
Meanwhile in NZ, two of our political parties’ handling of donations have been referred to the SFO. It is the second such referral for one of the parties.
National has been forced by the Advertising Standards Authority to delete misleading ads suggesting a $6000 tax was to be put on some cars. The ASA found this was a fabrication. But Leader Simon Bridges said his party will not tone down their ads in the future. Would laws like Germany’s, prevent this? Or would a system such as Finland has, where schools teach statistics and use of language to educate children to recognise fake news, as the National party has?
The Freedom Foundation rates Finland at the world’s highest level of democracy. At 100%, (NZ is at 98%).
Germany’s Leader, Angela Merkel has warned the West that there is a risk of taking democracy for granted. We cannot afford to let that happen.