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Tyranny’s Propagandists Are Winning

A free press is crucial to countering the harmful effects of disinformation, but the business model that supported independent journalism is collapsing when we need it most. To defend against the rising tide of authoritarianism, democracies must support fact-based news and ensure that it is readily accessible to all.

SEOUL/THE HAGUE – If democracy had its own doomsday clock, it would be at two minutes to midnight. According to the most recent analysis by Varieties of Democracy (known as V-Dem), 72% of the world’s population lived in autocracies last year, compared to 50% a decade ago. For the first time in more than two decades, there are more authoritarian regimes than liberal democracies – and we are not doing enough to address this threat.

The reversal has been stunning. In the Philippines, Ferdinand “Bongbong” 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 president Jair Bolsonaro’s defeat to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced its citizens to rise up against a genocidal occupier. And 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.

We must do more to stop this rapid democratic backsliding. During World War II, when democracy was similarly threatened, the free world came together to bring about a more peaceful international order. The multilateral system that was established in 1944 at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, and by the creation of the United Nations the following year, led to decades of relative stability and international cooperation on human rights.

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Update Apr 13, 2023 15:18UTC

The seventh paragraph of this commentary has been updated to reflect data from the Center for International Media Assistance.