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While America is looking away, autocrats are cracking down on digital news sites

“Knowing that the United States and other Western democracies will be in your case often prevents authoritarian leaders from taking such action,” said New Jersey Representative Tom Malinowski, who was Deputy State Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Jobs in the Obama Administration. . No longer. Now he said, “America’s official policy is that free and independent media is the enemy of the people.”

Last week, in a particularly clear signal to autocrats around the world, the Trump administration began refusing to renew visas for employees of Voice of America, some of whom may be pushed back in the arms by authoritarian governments they have criticized in the US airwaves .

A foreign ministry spokesman, who spoke (despite his title) on the condition that he was not appointed, said: “The institution speaks both publicly and privately about the importance of independent media and specific cases, where appropriate, and will continue to do so” . He added that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “has called on all governments to release journalists who are imprisoned for their work and to hold those responsible for crimes against them.”

The American media is now cramping over speech issues, important fighters with real efforts, especially when it comes to the decisions made by and for the giant technical platforms. But the predominant lesson from President Trump’s admirers around the world is obvious: that the ultimate, most serious threats to a free press come from governments who, to justify their actions, have resorted opportunistically to causes ranging from demanding platforms to moderate cracking services down to “fake news” to set new licensing requirements.

I began to report on the attacks on my favorite journalists as Mr. Gan and Ressa felt pessimistic. But it is impossible not to be moved by their perhaps insane optimism and by how much they love their work. “The fact that there’s nothing else out there gives us a huge sense of purpose – it makes you feel like you’re really doing something important despite all the odds,” Attalah said.

Mr Gan told me he “would not have lasted 20 years if I was not an indestructible optimist”, adding that the current meltdown in Malaysia may be the worst yet. (In fact, he asked me not to describe the make and color of his car because it could be a target for attacks.) Ressa’s motto is: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger“.

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