Reporting emerging authoritarianism

In the Sala del Dottorato in Perugia, Yavuz Baydar (co-founder of P24), Tamas Bodoky (founder and editor of, Alexa Koenig (director of Human Rights Center of UC Berkley), and John Nery (moderator and associate editor of Philippine Daily Inquirer) discuss the implications of authoritarianism in Turkey, Hungary, the Philippines and the United States.

Alexa Koenig starts the session by highlighting key elements of authoritarianism, and how it is applicable to the United States. Her analysis draws from a social psychology and neuroscience perspective, which takes a closer look at how the authoritarian narrative mobilizes the masses. She explains the four key elements of authoritarianism that led to the current situation in the United States: limited plurality within the political system, legitimacy in fear based sentiments that poses an existential threat, constraints of the opposing parties, and the “War on Terror” narrative that gives sweeping power to the executive branch.

Koenig admits that it is difficult to imagine the U.S. on this panel. She mentions the significant concerns since the beginning of Trump’s campaign, which continues to resonate once he took office in January. According to Koenig, Trump’s authoritarianism rise did not depend on the popular vote, however, there is a large silent majority which continues to fuel his reign. Koenig brings up Trump’s use of Twitter in order to frame messages that is often counter to mainstream media reports. This direct contact with his followers gives him the ability to frame, respond and generate reaction from his audience. By tapping into the psychological motivations of Trump followers, she says, we can further understand how it exists in the United States.

Yavuz Baydar, a Turkish journalist and co-founder of P24, who is currently living in exile from his country, illustrates the dire situation of journalism and free speech in an authoritarian regime. It has been widely reported that the Turkish referendum set for April 16th 2017, initiated by President Erdogan’s Justice and Development party or AKP, will have major repercussions if the vote swings ‘yes’. Baydar poses the question: “Did President Erdogan come into power with the mindset to establish authoritarianism in Turkey?

In Baydar’s observation, Erdogan’s drive to achieve an authoritarian regime is based on his deep-seated obligation to corruption that stems throughout the ruling party and his family. He also points out a negative correlation found between the state-run media and the investigative journalism projects in Turkey. There was a strong presence of investigative journalism before 2013. However, the rise of authoritarianism and state-own or funded media outlets show a decrease in investigative journalism.

Hungary appears to be experiencing a similar trajectory to Turkey in the authoritarian path. Tamas Bodoky, founder and editor of, explains a significant shift in the government’s mandate against public media. This entails the Hungarian government buying up independent media companies. Secondly, independent media are labelled as foreign conspirators sent to meddle in local politics. This leaves no room for independent media to thrive in Hungary and makes it impossible for investigative journalism to work. Finally, Bodoky claims that state-run media continues to pump out propaganda in order to bolster their popularity amongst the people. For example, Bodoky points out the use of state-run media to demonize the image of migrants and refugees to create fear within the population in order for them to seek protection from the government.

Lastly, the Philippines is also experiencing the rise of an authoritarian figure that is tainted by the the murders of its citizens. John Nery, moderator and associate editor of Philippine Daily Inquirer, pointed out that President Duterte’s war on drugs is resulting in the killings of innocent people.

According to Nery, the Presidents’ popularity is king, however, there are real limits to his popularity, when he was elected with only 38 percent of the population. Nery claims to have heard Duterte pronounce his desire to achieve constitutional authoritarianism within the legal framework, asking his internal staff to seek out the possibility to become a dictator. Despite the fact that Duterte is determined to achieve the highest rank in power, he is uncertain about being the President. The diminishing of rule and law does not help in promoting freedom of speech and journalism.

While the panelist presents a grim vision of each countries, they also provide the general audience with counter initiatives to deter the expansion of authoritarianism within their respective countries. Bodoky urges the transfer of ownership from state to independent media in Hungary. Koenig pushes for the importance to pursue facts in mainstream and independent media to combat false accusations. Secondly, she hopes that the media will produce more news that highlight ethnic, gender and religious minorities to give a strong narrative to counter the chaotic media landscape.

By Irada Yeap