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Journalists under attack in the land of free speech

Journalists under attack in the land of free speech

As protests over the police killing of George Floyd raged across the country, there have been more than 125 instances of journalists being shot with rubber bullets by police, arrested, or in some cases assaulted by protesters while covering the unrest.

Foreign news crews from Germany and Australia have been caught up in the crackdown. Australia's Prime Minister has even called for an investigation. Some of these journalists have simply been caught in the crossfire during surges of unrest, but video and photographic evidence reveals cases where police have deliberately targeted reporters doing their jobs.


We are used to talking about the plight of journalists in "unfree" or authoritarian societies. It surprises no one to learn that journalists have a hard time doing their work in Egypt or China, or that they can't do much at all in Turkmenistan and North Korea.

But the grim reality is that freedom of the press is now under assault not only in authoritarian countries, but in democracies too.

A report last year by the watchdog Freedom House found that 16 of the world's most free countries – including India, Hungary, Austria, Israel, and the United States — had seen declines in press freedom over the past five years. This trend tracked a broader withering of democratic institutions around the globe.

There are many reasons that the press is under pressure. The decline of local news has whittled away the connection between people and journalists. The rise of social media provides alternative sources of information that, by design, track and cultivate people's biases. The increasing polarization of cable news in particular has eroded popular trust in the media more broadly. Last year, just 41 percent of Americans trusted the media, according to Gallup. In 1972, when venerable TV anchorman Walter Cronkite spent a part of every evening in millions of American living rooms, the mark was 68 percent.

But there has also been a concerted attempt by self-styled populist leaders to demonize established media outlets. Railing against the press, a supposedly corrupt institution controlled by liberal elites, is a hallmark of populist politics raised to the level of art form by leaders like Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro, Turkey's Recep Erdogan, Hungary's Viktor Orban, and Italy's Matteo Salvini. And of course, no pulpit has been more bully on this score than the twitter account of US President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly called journalists "enemies of the people" – a turn of phrase with chilling historical resonances.

Language like this from powerful political leaders creates a dangerous situation in which some law enforcement officials who share their views feel that they have license to abuse or harass reporters in the middle of protests. After all, isn't it the job of police to protect "the people" from their "enemies?"

Democracies depend on the free flow of information. Some reporters let their biases distort their work, and all of them are human, but their reporting, however imperfect it may sometimes be, is critical for the health of an open society. No matter how polarized or troubled a society is, police should not shoot, beat, or arrest them for doing their jobs.

Carbon has a bad rep, but did you know it's a building block of life? As atoms evolved, carbon trapped in CO2 was freed, giving way to the creation of complex molecules that use photosynthesis to convert carbon to food. Soon after, plants, herbivores, and carnivores began populating the earth and the cycle of life began.

Learn more about how carbon created life on Earth in the second episode of Eni's Story of CO2 series.

As we enter the homestretch of the US presidential election — which is set to be the most contentious, and possibly contested, in generations — Americans are also voting on 35 seats up for grabs in a battle for the control of the Senate. The 100-member body is currently held 53-47 by the Republican Party, but many individual races are wide open, and the Democrats are confident they can flip the upper chamber of Congress.

Either way, the result will have a profound impact not only on domestic policy, but also on US foreign relations and other issues with global reach. Here are a few areas where what US senators decide reverberates well beyond American shores.

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On September 23, GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — gathered global experts to discuss global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a livestream panel. Our panel for the discussion Crisis Response & Recovery: Reimagining while Rebuilding, included:

  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • John Frank, Vice President, UN Affairs at Microsoft
  • Susan Glasser, staff writer and Washington columnist, The New Yorker (moderator)

Special appearances by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde, and comedian/host Trevor Noah.

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Jon Lieber, who leads Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, offers insights on the Supreme Court vacancy:

Will Senate Republicans, who stopped a Supreme Court nomination in 2016, because it was too close to an election, pay a political price for the change in tactics this time around?

Not only do I think they won't pay a political price, I think in many cases, they're going to benefit. Changing the balance of power on the Supreme Court has been a career-long quest for many conservatives and many Republicans. And that's why you've seen so many of them fall in line behind the President's nomination before we even know who it is.

At this point, do Senate Democrats have any hope of stopping President Trump from filling the ninth seat on the Supreme Court?

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In a special GZERO Media livestream on global response and recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media president Ian Bremmer discussed the difference between Europe's unified approach to economic stimulus and the deeply divided and political nature of the current conversation in the US. While initial stimulus support was bipartisan, there is little chance of Democrats and Republicans coming together again ahead of the November 3 presidential election. "It's red state versus blue state. President Trump's saying that coronavirus isn't so bad if you take the blue states out. He's president of the blue states, you can't take the blue states out," Bremmer told moderator Susan Glasser of The New Yorker.

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Panel: How will the world recover from COVID-19?

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