europe, human rights, World Politics

Refugees, extremism, and the EU do not justify curbed press freedoms

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It seems that the existence of our free press, liberal social networks, and a largely unrestricted internet maze are the foundations of our societies that we are failing to appreciate. Recent months have seen a draconian crackdown on countless activists and journalists worldwide, most notably throughout Turkey, Poland, and Middle Eastern nations. Without giving citizens the ability to criticise their leaders, only tyranny and inequality will prevail. As governments are placed under mounting pressure to restore public order and dissolve the marked threats of rampant extremism, global populations are at risk of viewing an independent media as a more sporadic luxury.

Headlines in past months have seen the stringent curtailing of speech freedoms in myriad nations. More and more, the rights of citizens to criticise from the interior of controversial regimes are declining.  Turkey’s government, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is on a rights rampage, crushing protests over intense media regulation, and closing numerous media outlets which actively speak out against the government. March saw the Committee for the Protection of Journalists declare Turkey as “under siege” in the war against its free press. Further punctuated by the prosecution of a German comedian for his outspoken poem tormenting President Erdoğan, and the government’s new control of multiple private news agencies, perhaps there will soon be no robust check on the Turkish government. The situation is all too similar worldwide, especially in Poland and Egypt. In January, President Andrzej Duda similarly moved a large proportion of the country’s media under state control. The February murder of Reuters journalist Giulio Regeni in Cairo shows that the suppression of our global media is fast mushrooming.

The sad reality is that the above examples are only a small fraction of the assaults carried out against international media. The EU and the UN, two of the most authoritative rights organisations in the world, have declared the right to freedom of speech and the existence of a free press are essential human rights and key pillars of liberal democracies. Denying citizens this liberty should is a crime. Without a free press encircling our societies the significant corruption which riddles too many communities would not have been exposed. Last month’s Panama Papers scandal is just one of the many underhand operations that  came to light thanks to a co-operative, forceful global media. With harsher press clampdowns, similar discoveries will only become fewer and less frequent. Our governments are in real danger of becoming despotic and unaccountable.

The laxity of many global leaders is coming at a hefty price. Many nations may, in just several years, have no real accountability mechanisms in place. Whilst the eternal struggle against extremist militants across the world continues, the European influx of refugees fleeing war-torn states becomes greater, and the European Union becomes closer to tipping point, it is vital that political solutions are, of course, sought. But we absolutely cannot concede press freedoms for increased peace. The shutdown of our media outlets will only increase the toil and the danger.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, portrayed as the queen of Europe and pioneer of one of the world’s greatest democracies, is one leader who has unforgivably succumbed to such pressures. In an attempt to prevent the break up of the European Union, and to save the German export economy, Turkey has been urged to take the brunt of the continuing refugee crisis. Some form of payback is absolutely right. But the accelerated EU membership process of Turkey will threaten the core principles of the Union, including those of our societies’ press freedoms. Accepting Turkey into the EU whilst it fails to comply with several of the 72 membership pre-requisites, is certainly not a master stroke. Coercing Turkey into housing a large proportion of Middle Eastern refugees is all for political advantage. Turkish membership will make the existence of weak political freedoms somewhat acceptable, and Germany, one of the biggest promoters of such democratic principles, is shamefully abandoning its national morals. One of the largest world democracies has now authorised Turkey’s lax political society, which will now allow the replication of weak media regulation in nations elsewhere.

Our leaders’ ploys of taking reduced press freedoms for increased political advantages will not work eventually. Without strong opposition to these moves from global powers, such media suppression will become more commonplace. Our inability to crackdown on blatantly harsh regimes is fostering a rise in authoritarianism as people yearn for some form of immediate stability. One recent report showed that civilians caught up in the Arab Spring would forego democracy in return for increased stability. Whilst vehement authoritarianism will, in several cases, bring stability in the short term, a reduction in the ability to speak out will create internal opposition and unjust dictatorships. The promotion of truly democratic principles is the only way of tackling political problems in Middle Eastern states, as well as nations such as Turkey and Poland.

The most worrying prospect is that such democracy-threatening politics could become the norm in our societies. As citizens look for solutions to political instability, as well as an end to prevalent barbarism – and quite rightly so – we can’t just forget our democratic morals in return for a quick and short-term remedy. The removal of a vibrant, challenging press is criminal, and will result in the eventual explosion of pent up fury, restarting the vicious circle. The only solution is for our Western leaders to demonstrate their solid grip on democratic principles. A free press is essential, but by no means existent in many societies. Without fast-paced, immediate action, global citizens’ voices will become increasingly drowned out, and tyranny will triumph.

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