Journalists who stick their noses into the affairs of the powerful and expose their failures are a threat. It’s therefore no great shock that even many leaders of democratic countries are happier when the press is weakened.
The Covid-19 pandemic has presented a golden window to undermine confidence in the media and, in some cases, for world leaders to launch outright assaults on some of the most respected and important journalistic institutions in their countries.
Earlier this week, the Polish parliament passed a bill that could mean curtains for the country’s largest independent news channel. TVN24, a broadcaster that is frequently critical of the Polish governing party, is in part owned by the American media group Discovery. Should this new bill become law, non-EU entities will be prohibited from being majority shareholders in Polish media companies, meaning Discovery would have to sell its majority stake.
Also this week, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz put forward his plan that would effectively pull funding from the country’s oldest newspaper.
Wiener Zeitung is a state-owned newspaper and is funded by a model that requires the government to advertise jobs and make other formal announcements in its pages. Yet the paper has an independent editorial policy and has often criticized Kurz and his administration. Under the Chancellor’s plans, that funding would be gone and the paper’s main source of income taken away.