A press watchdog group, Reporters Without Borders, named 37 world leaders Monday as media “predators” who “crack down massively” on press freedom, including for the first time a Western European leader, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
The Paris-based group, in its first such list in five years, included two women, Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh's prime minister since 2009, and Carrie Lam, chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region since 2017.
Reporters Without Borders said the “most notable” name on the new list “is undoubtedly Saudi Arabia’s 35-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who is the center of all power in his hands and heads a monarchy that tolerates no press freedom. His repressive methods include spying and threats that have sometimes led to abduction, torture and other unthinkable acts. [Journalist] Jamal Khashoggi’s horrific murder exposed a predatory method that is simply barbaric.”
The group said the officials it cited all “trample on press freedom by creating a censorship apparatus, jailing journalists arbitrarily or inciting violence against them, when they don’t have blood on their hands because they have directly or indirectly pushed for journalists to be murdered.”
The group said Orban "has steadily and effectively undermined media pluralism and independence since being returned to power in 2010" by using "varied predatory techniques."
"The methods may be subtle or brazen, but they are always efficient," the report said. The watchdog group said oligarchs close to Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party controls more than 80% of the media in the country, while private media is discriminated against and characterized as publishing “fake news.”
Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs assailed the report and said the watchdog should be called “Fake News Without Borders."
Reporters Without Borders said Hasina’s “predatory exploits” in Bangladesh included “the adoption of a digital security law in 2018 that has led to more than 70 journalists and bloggers being prosecuted.”
It said Lam "has proved to be the puppet of Chinese President Xi Jinping, and now openly supports his predatory policies towards the media.” The watchdog condemned the recent closing of Hong Kong's leading independent newspaper, Apple Daily, and the jailing of its founder, Jimmy Lai.
Christophe Deloire, the watchdog's secretary-general, urged world governments to disavow the attacks on media by the 37 leaders it cited.
"We must not let their methods become the new normal," he said.
This report includes information from the Associated Press.