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Opinion – Don’t Let the Autocrats Win – How Biden Can Use the Democracy Summit to Build Back Media Freedoms

This piece was originally published in Just Security

By Amal Clooney.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

It is not hyperbolic to suggest that democracy may not survive the 21st century. As President Biden has said, future generations “will be doing their doctoral thesis on the issue of who succeeded: autocracy or democracy”? He has pledged to host a Global Summit for Democracy so that the US can “prove that democracy works.” And this summit must result in something more than lofty declarations. Because right now autocracy is winning.

The number of autocracies in the world today exceeds the number of democracies. Experts at the University of Gothenburg report that the world’s largest democracy, India, has turned into an electoral autocracy. And they conclude that — after a decade of backsliding — only 14% of the world’s population now live in a liberal democracy.

A key reason for democracy’s retreat is the collapse of the free press. The number of journalists being killed outside war zones is now higher than the number dying in war. We’ve recently seen journalists murdered even in the heart of Europe — in Malta and Slovakia. Today’s autocrats are bold enough to murder journalists on foreign soil or kidnap them on commercial airliners in mid-air. Journalists across the globe are behind bars for crimes they did not commit, or because the state has made journalism itself the crime. And on every continent journalists are routinely demonisedharassedsurveilledtreated like terrorists or spies and sued into bankruptcy.

So those who are determined to silence the press have a well-developed toolkit of unfair laws and repressive tactics to quash critics and lock up opponents. It is time for leading democracies to create a toolkit in response. And it should include protecting journalists and punishing the autocrats who persecute them. This can be done in at least four ways.

To read the full opinion piece, click here.