If democracy had a doomsday clock, it would be at two minutes to midnight. Recent analysis by Varieties of Democracy showed that 72 percent of the world’s population lived in autocracies last year, compared with 50 percent a decade ago.
For the first time in more than two decades, there are more authoritarian regimes than liberal democracies — and not enough is being done to address this threat.
The reversal has been stunning. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr won last year’s presidential election, 36 years after a popular revolt overthrew his father’s dictatorship. In Brazil, millions still refuse to accept former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s defeat to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced its citizens to rise up against a genocidal occupier. In Egypt, the last vestiges of resistance to autocracy have been forced into the shadows.
On every continent, illiberal politicians are portraying democracy as an impractical historical relic.
More must be done to stop this rapid democratic backsliding. During World War II, when democracy was similarly threatened, the free world came together to create a more peaceful international order.
The multilateral system that was established in 1944 at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, and by the creation of the UN the following year, led to decades of relative stability and international cooperation on human rights.
The world is at a similar moment today — with an important twist. The conflict between autocracy and democracy is fought not only on the battlefield and in the political arena, but also on social media and broadcast television. If democracy is to prevail, credible, independent news media is essential.
Without trusted, impartial media, we cannot have shared facts. Without shared facts, we cannot have political accountability or fair elections. Without fair elections, democracy cannot survive.
However, just when it is most needed, fact-based, public-interest journalism is dying out.
The ongoing demise of advertising revenue has severely limited news outlets’ ability to inform citizens, hold the powerful to account and tell important stories.
The failure of journalism’s business model has led to two decades of collapsing revenues, cost cutting and layoffs.
Thousands of news organizations across the world have shut down, while political actors have acquired others as a vehicle for spreading propaganda.
China has spent an estimated US$6.6 billion since 2009 on strengthening its international media influence, and Russia spent at least US$1.5 billion last year on similar efforts.
International efforts to support independent journalism have been paltry in comparison.
A forthcoming report by the Center for International Media Assistance shows that such funding amounted to US$385 million in 2019 — about 0.3 percent of overseas development assistance.
This is woefully insufficient. Public and private funders must increase support for media organizations to at least 1 percent of global development assistance, providing an additional US$1 billion per year to support public-interest journalism.
The defining challenge of our time, saving democracy, must be a collective effort.
On March 30, US President Joe Biden’s administration held its second Summit for Democracy, which aimed to make democracies “more responsive and resilient.”
The first summit took place online in December 2021 and ended with several heads of state — including Biden, then-New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron — committing to provide support to the International Fund for Public Interest Media (IFPIM).
IFPIM is a first-of-its-kind multilateral institution seeking to boost the economic resilience of news outlets, and usher in a new paradigm for public-interest journalism within the next decade.
IFPIM has received financial contributions of almost US$50 million from 16 donors, including seven governments and nine firms and philanthropies.
Many of those funders are contributing meaningfully to global media for the first time. Since the last summit, IFPIM has funded 11 news outlets in 10 countries, including Brazil, Colombia, Niger, Tunisia and Ukraine.
However, those funds are still only a fraction of the billions of US dollars autocrats spend on strengthening their networks for disseminating disinformation.
This year, democratic states must step up and commit significant funds to scale up the support for independent media.
Wealthy democracies that have long understood the importance of a free press, such as G7 countries, must mobilize their resources to support the creation of a global information ecosystem that is more resilient to disinformation.
Private firms, which rely on accurate information to thrive, must take a prominent role in this effort by committing capital to fix the market failure that has weakened public-interest journalism.
Support for public-interest media is not nostalgia for some halcyon era. The ability to access real-time, accurate information is essential to a well-functioning democracy.
To defend against the rising tide of authoritarianism, fact-based news must be readily accessible to all. Liberal democracy’s doomsday clock is edging closer to midnight. Action is needed to prevent a long tyrannical darkness.
Maria Ressa, cofounder and cochair of the International Fund for Public Interest Media, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 for her work as an investigative journalist in the Philippines. Nishant Lalwani is chief executive officer of the International Fund for Public Interest Media.
Copyright: Project Syndicate
Speaking at the Asia-Pacific Forward Forum in Taipei, former Singaporean minister for foreign affairs George Yeo (楊榮文) proposed a “Chinese commonwealth” as a potential framework for political integration between Taiwan and China. Yeo said the “status quo” in the Taiwan Strait is unsustainable and that Taiwan should not be “a piece on the chessboard” in a geopolitical game between China and the US. Yeo’s remark is nothing but an ill-intentioned political maneuver that is made by all pro-China politicians in Singapore. Since when does a Southeast Asian nation have the right to stick its nose in where it is not wanted
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