Factbox: What Will May’s Successor do About Brexit?

Who are the candidates vying for British Prime Minister Theresa May’s job and what have they said about Brexit?

May has announced she is quitting, triggering a contest that will bring a new leader to power, with most of the front-runners expected to push for a cleaner break with the European Union.

Below are the 11 Conservative lawmakers who have said they are running and what they have said about Brexit. They are arranged in the order listed by oddschecker, a website that compiles bookmakers’ odds.


The bookmakers’ clear favorite was the face of the official campaign to leave the European Union. The former London mayor resigned as foreign minister in July last year in protest at May’s handling of the exit negotiations.

Johnson said in a campaign video that Britain would leave the EU Oct. 31 “deal or no deal.” He has also said a second referendum on EU membership would be a “very bad idea” and divisive.

In a newspaper column, he said: “No one sensible would aim exclusively for a no-deal outcome. No one responsible would take no-deal off the table.

“If we are courageous and optimistic, we can strike a good bargain with our friends across the Channel, come out well and on time — by Oct. 31 — and start delivering on all the hopes and ambitions of the people.”

Local media reported he told a leadership hustings that the Conservatives would not be forgiven if Britain did not leave the EU by Oct. 31 and would face “political extinction.”

Johnson was educated at Eton College and Oxford University.


Gove, one of the highest-profile Brexit campaigners during the 2016 referendum, scuppered Johnson’s 2016 leadership bid by withdrawing his support at the last moment to run himself.

Seen as one of the most effective members of May’s Cabinet as environment minister, Gove backed her Brexit strategy.

On Brexit: Gove said he believed he could unite the party and deliver Brexit.

He said he would set out his Brexit plans in more detail at a formal leadership launch, but told the BBC: “In government and in this job I have got to [come to] grips with preparing for a no-deal, it is a possible outcome. … We would be able to get through it, but it is ultimately better for all of us if we secure a deal and leave in an orderly way.”

“We must leave the EU before we have an election,” Gove said on Twitter, adding that otherwise Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn could end up as prime minister with support from Scottish nationalists.

Gove was educated at Oxford University.


A pro-Brexit campaigner, Leadsom made it to the last two in the 2016 contest to replace Cameron. She withdrew after a backlash to an interview in which she said being a mother gave her more of a stake in the future of the country, seen by critics as an unfair attack on May, who has no children.

Leadsom quit as Leader of the House of Commons last month, saying she did not believe the government’s approach would deliver on the Brexit referendum result.

On Brexit: She told the Sunday Times she would put significant effort into encouraging the EU to come up with a “deal that we can all live with” but also said Britain had to leave by the end of October, with or without a deal.

Leadsom was educated at the University of Warwick before spending 25 years in banking and finance.


Hunt replaced Johnson as foreign minister in July after serving six years as health minister. That role made him unpopular with many voters who work in or rely on the state-run, financially stretched National Health Service.

On Brexit: A remain supporter in the 2016 referendum, Hunt now says that while he would prefer to leave the EU with a deal, he believes a no-deal exit is better than no Brexit. However, in a Daily Telegraph article he became the most senior figure vying to succeed May to reject a threat to leave with no deal by the end of October, saying lawmakers would block any such move.

“Any prime minister who promised to leave the EU by a specific date — without the time to renegotiate and pass a new deal — would, in effect, be committing to a general election the moment parliament tried to stop it. And trying to deliver no deal through a general election is not a solution; it is political suicide,” he wrote.

“A different deal is, therefore, the only solution. … That means negotiations that take us out of the customs union while generously respecting legitimate concerns about the Irish border,” he continued.

He has not however entirely ruled out a no-deal exit, saying he could consider it as a last resort.

Hunt was educated at Oxford. He speaks fluent Japanese.


Raab quit as May’s Brexit minister last year after five months in the job, saying her draft exit agreement did not match the promises the Conservative Party made in the 2017 election.

He had held junior ministerial roles since being elected in 2010. Raab, a black belt in karate, campaigned for Brexit.

On Brexit: Raab told the BBC that he plans to seek a “fairer deal” with Brussels, including renegotiating the customs and border plans relating to Northern Ireland. He also said he would not delay Brexit beyond October however, and was prepared to leave without a deal.

Raab said he expected that if Britain left without a deal, it would be likely get to keep around 25 billion pounds of its 39 billion pound exit payment, and the government could use that money to support businesses through Brexit.

The son of a Jewish refugee, Raab was educated at Oxford University.


A former diplomat who once walked 6,000 miles across Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal, Stewart was recently promoted to International Development Secretary.

Stewart was first elected to parliament in 2010 and backed remaining in the EU in the 2016 referendum. He opposes a “no deal” exit and has been a vocal advocate of May’s deal with Brussels.

On Brexit: He told Sky News that he favored a “pragmatic, moderate Brexit.”

He said he would not seek to change May’s withdrawal agreement, which has been rejected by parliament three times and said anyone who said they could do so by October was “deluding themselves or deluding the country.”

“We have a deal negotiated with the European Union on the Withdrawal Agreement. What I would be doing in parliament and with the British people is sorting out that political declaration and landing it so we can get out and move on.”

Stewart was educated at Eton College and Oxford University.


Javid, a former banker and a champion of free markets, has served in a number of Cabinet roles and scores consistently well in polls of party members. A second-generation immigrant of Pakistani heritage, he has a portrait of late Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on his office wall.

On Brexit: Javid voted “remain” in the 2016 referendum but was previously considered a eurosceptic.

Javid wants to reshape the existing Brexit deal and get it through parliament, but would be prepared to leave without a deal if that proves impossible.

“We should leave on Oct. 31. And if we cannot get a deal we should, with great regret, leave without one, having done everything we can to minimize disruption,” he wrote in the Daily Mail.

He wants to ramp up no-deal preparations to show the EU that Britain is serious about walking away from talks.

Javid also said he was against a second referendum: “Never in this country’s history have we asked people to go to the polls a second time without implementing their verdict from the first.”

Javid, the son of a bus driver, was educated at Exeter University.


Health minister Hancock, a former economist at the Bank of England, supported “remain” in 2016. First elected to parliament in 2010, he has held several ministerial roles.

On Brexit: He told BBC Radio that leaving without a deal was not an option, as parliament would not allow it. He said he was open to renegotiating May’s deal with the EU but would focus on getting a Brexit deal through parliament.

Writing in the Daily Mail, he said the Conservatives needed to win back both pro-Brexit and pro-remain voters who had deserted it for other parties. He told Sky News he planned to renegotiate the future relationship with the EU and would explore the possibility of changing the Withdrawal Agreement.

“We need to leave the EU with a deal before 31st October. I still think that is deliverable,” he said.

Hancock was educated at Oxford University.


The pro-Brexit former television presenter, who resigned as work and pensions minister in November in protest at May’s exit deal with the EU, said Sunday Britain has to leave on Oct. 31 and “if that means without a deal, then that is what it means.”

On Brexit: She wrote in the Daily Telegraph that no government she led would ever seek an extension beyond Oct. 31.

“We need to stop wasting time having artificial debates about renegotiating backstops or resurrecting botched deals. The only way to deliver the referendum result is to actively embrace leaving the EU without a deal,” she said.

McVey was educated at Queen Mary University of London.


Harper, who was elected to parliament in 2005 after working as an accountant, has held junior ministerial positions and served as the government’s chief enforcer in parliament under former Prime Minister David Cameron.

In 2014 he resigned as immigration minister after it emerged his cleaner did not have permission to work in Britain.

On Brexit: Harper supported remaining in the EU at the 2016 referendum but says he would now vote to leave. He told Sky News he would extend Article 50 to give time to secure an exit deal.

“I would rather be realistic with people and say actually if you want to leave with a deal, you want a serious attempt to get a good deal then it simply can’t be done by Oct. 31,” he said.

“I want to leave with a deal but I do think if we can’t get a deal that goes through parliament we need to leave without a Withdrawal Agreement but I think we will only persuade a majority in parliament of that if they think we have made a serious real attempt.”

He was educated at Oxford University.


Gyimah is the only candidate to back another Brexit referendum.

A former investment banker and entrepreneur, Gyimah entered parliament after the 2010 election. He was promoted to minister for universities in January 2018, but resigned 10 months later over May’s Brexit deal.

He said he was joining the contest to “broaden the race.”

“There is a wide range of candidates but there is a very narrow set of views on Brexit being discussed,” he told Sky News.

“Parliament is deadlocked, we all know that,” he said. “We want to be able to bring the country together so that is why I think a final say on the Brexit deal is the way to achieve that.

“I’ll be the only candidate in the race offering this option which is supported by the vast majority of people in the public, in order to take us forward.”

Trump Hails ‘Unbreakable’ Transatlantic Bond At D-Day Ceremony

U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron attended a ceremony Thursday at the American Military Cemetery in Normandy to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and then held a bilateral meeting. Some 2,500 U.S. troops were killed on June 6 1944, the first day of the Allied invasion to liberate Nazi-occupied France. Ceremonies have been taking place across the region as Britain, Canada and other Allied nations pay tribute to the fallen. As Henry Ridgwell reports from Normandy, the poignant ceremonies come at a time of heightened tension and fears over the future of the transatlantic alliance.

Russia, China Voice Support for Iran After Xi Visit to Kremlin

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday hosted Chinese leader Xi Jinping for Kremlin talks that reflected increasingly close ties between the two countries that were communist rivals during the Cold War.

At the conclusion of the meetings a joint statement by Russia and China voiced support for Iran and commended Iran’s implementation of the requirements of the Joint Comprehensive plan of Action (JCPOA) or Iran’s nuclear agreement with world powers, reported Russia’s Interfax news agency.

Both countries underlined their commitment to maintain good relations with Iran. “The parties emphasize the need to protect their mutually beneficial commercial and economic cooperation with Iran and firmly oppose the imposition of unilateral sanctions by any states under the pretense of their own national legislation…,” the statement said.

The United States withdrew from the agreement in May 2018 and imposed heavy economic sanctions on Iran. Despite the strong support voiced for Tehran, so far both China and Russia appear to abide by the terms of the U.S. sanctions. Iranian shipments of oil to Asian destinations has substantially decreased, as China does not appear to be buying the quantities it did before last November, when oil sanctions started and came fully into play at the beginning of May.

China’s Xi called Putin his “close friend,” noting that they have met nearly 30 times over the last six years. The trip marked Xi’s eighth visit to Russia since he took the helm in 2012.

“We will strengthen our mutual support on key issues,” Xi said, sitting next to Putin in an ornate Kremlin hall.

Trump Hails Unbreakable’ Transatlantic Bond at D-Day Ceremony

U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron attended a ceremony Thursday at the American Military Cemetery in Normandy to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, following with a bilateral meeting in the city of Caen.

Ceremonies have been taking place at other cemeteries and monuments across the region as the U.S., France, Britain, Canada and other Allied nations pay tribute to the fallen.

About 2,500 U.S. troops died in a single day on June 6, 1944, as Allied forces invaded Nazi-occupied France. Total Allied casualties that day are estimated at 10,000. Less than a year after the invasion, officially named “Operation Overlord,” Germany surrendered as Berlin fell to the Allies.

The 75th anniversary was marked at dawn on Omaha Beach, below the U.S. cemetery. American D-Day veterans were among the crowd that had gathered to greet the sunrise with a minute’s silence.

President Trump and French President Macron arrived by helicopter several hours later. Seated in the front row, the D-Day veterans were given repeated standing ovations by the thousands-strong crowd. The French president spoke first.

“We know what we owe to you, veterans, our freedom. On behalf of my nation, I just want to say thank you,” Emmanuel Macron told the veterans in English.

Turning to his American counterpart, he spoke pointedly of the alliance between nations underpinning victory and freedom.

“The United States of America, dear President Trump, is never so great as when it fights for the freedom of others,” said Macron.

President Trump continued the tribute to the fallen and to the veterans present at the ceremony, saying they had saved not only a nation, but a civilization.

“To the more than 170 veterans of World War II, who join us today, you are among the very greatest Americans who will ever live. You are the pride of our nation, you are the glory of our republic, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Today we express our undying gratitude, when you were young, these men enlisted their lives, in a great crusade, one of the greatest of all times,” Trump said, before paying tribute to the shared sacrifice among allies.

“Our cherished alliance was forged in the heat of battle, tested in the trials of war, and proven in the blessings of peace. Our bond is unbreakable,” Trump said.

U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander of Allied Expeditionary Forces on D-Day. That post, now known as Supreme Allied Commander Europe, is currently held by General Tod Wolters, who also attended the ceremony Thursday. Despite transatlantic political tensions, he told VOA the alliance with Europe is in good health.

“Take a look at what took place on Utah Beach, the cooperation between multiple nations and multiple domains,” said Wolters. “And all you have to do is put your feet on the sands and you get a deep appreciation for how powerful the alliance is and the importance of keeping that alliance together. And today I feel very, very confident that the alliance is a strong as it’s ever been.”

European leaders have repeatedly praised America’s sacrifice, hoping to underline to President Trump the importance of the transatlantic bond at a time of heightened tension and fears over the future of the alliance.

Following the ceremony, Trump and Macron held a bilateral meeting in the nearby city of Caen, where NATO, trade and defense issues were expected to feature high on the agenda.

Russia Heats Up Race for the Arctic

The Kremlin is pushing ahead with efforts to boost Russia’s presence in the Arctic. U.S. intelligence officials have been warning that Moscow’s military and economic activity in the region has reached levels not seen since the Cold War. President Vladimir Putin this year said his country will significantly expand its Arctic cargo lanes linking Russian ports to China. As Ricardo Marquina reports, that effort is evident in Russia’s drive to build advanced icebreakers. Jeff Custer narrates.

Amid the Smoke and Tears of Normandy and Paris, a Love Story

The allies’ liberation of France in World War II began with fierce battles on the shores of Normandy. Amid the blood, smoke, and tears, there were stories of love, like the one of Francine Nelson. She met the man of her dreams, an American GI, as the allies liberated Paris. She married him and immigrated to the U.S. Nicolas Pinault caught up with Francine, now 92, at her home in Normandy where she spoke of her love for her husband – and her bonds with America.

97-Year-Old Veteran Parachutes Over Normandy as Part of D-Day Ceremonies

Ceremonies took place Wednesday to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, when Allied forces landed approximately 156,000 troops in Normandy in Nazi-occupied France.

Thousands of military personnel and civilians have taken part in reenactments of famous battles and landmark events across the Normandy region. D-Day veterans who took part in the invasion have been at the heart of many of the events this week.

Among them was 97-year-old Tom Rice, who jumped from a World War II Dakota plane above the town of Carentan Wednesday, recreating the parachute drop he took part in on June 6, 1944.

“Great, great! Beautiful drive, beautiful jump, beautiful flight. Everything was perfect,” Rice said after landing safely in a field outside Carentan to raucous cheers from crowds of spectators.

Rice was a 22-year-old staff sergeant with the 101st Airborne Division on D-Day, among 13,000 Allied paratroopers who were dropped behind enemy lines.

“It was one of my worst jumps,” Rice told VOA. “My arm got caught in the lower left-hand corner of the plane door. And we were doing 165 miles an hour (265 km), and that’s too fast — we can’t jump at that speed. But the pilots wouldn’t slow it down.”

Rice eventually landed safely outside Carentan, but struggled to find his comrades.

“We were spread over so many miles, it took a week and a half to get together.”

The paratroopers would play a crucial role in engaging German defenses ahead of the Allied troops landing on the beaches and securing routes further inland.

This week, more than 1,300 current U.S. servicemen and women are in Normandy to commemorate D-Day, alongside close to 1,000 military personnel from Europe and Canada. In charge of the complex logistics is Sgt. Maj. Rocky Carr of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command.

“Bringing together the might of our allies and partners are what makes us strong, and I think that’s what carried the day for us in the victory 75 years ago. And I would add, it still preserves the peace. That presence and that alliance still preserves the peace to this day,” he said.

The U.S. 4th Infantry Division landed 21,000 troops at Utah Beach on D-Day, among them a young officer named William Miller. Now 97 years old, Miller told VOA during a visit to the beach this week that he feared the sacrifices of his comrades are being forgotten.

“Our young people today don’t know enough about what really happened,” he said.

Current members of the 4th Infantry Division recreated the march from Utah Beach to Sainte-Marie-du-Mont — the first village liberated by U.S. troops — through streets lined with the Stars and Stripes flag. Capt. Joshua Kellbach told VOA he was taken aback by the local support shown to them by the French.

“Just the respect that you get being American here in northern France is absolutely amazing,” he said.

Further east at Omaha Beach, the 75th Ranger Regiment Wednesday recreated the famous Pointe Du Hoc climb, when more than 500 rangers scaled the cliffs the morning of June 6 to take on German defenses.

As the number of D-Day veterans dwindles, soldiers and civilians here say they are determined to keep alive the memory of the horror and sacrifice that fellow soldiers endured 75 years ago.

New Orleans National World War II Museum Rooted in D-Day Invasion

Champ Vinet vividly remembers June 6, 1944. D-Day. 

“We knew it was coming, we didn’t know when of course,” says the 96-year-old nonagenarian who is quick to add, “I’ll be 97 in a month.”

Vinet was training in Colorado to become a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps when news reached him that Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, in the largest military invasion in history.

But Vinet says the drumbeats of war came to New Orleans long before. 

“What World War Two did for my area, the lower 9th Ward in New Orleans, was create jobs,” says Vinet. “We are talking about coming out of a Depression, where unemployment was 15 to 20 (percent). And it was hungry time. And Higgins created a huge amount of jobs.”

New Orleans businessman Andrew Higgins was a part of the pre-war U.S. Arsenal of Democracy, supplying equipment to American allies. Once the U.S. entered the fight, his factories equipped the military with a vessel that became critical to the D-Day invasion. 

“In the immortal words of Dwight Eisenhower… I can only say that this is how we won the war. Without those Higgins boats, there was no way we could put 156,000 troops onto the beaches of Normandy,” says Keith Huxen, senior director of research and history at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, located near the former factory where many of the Higgins boats were built.

“D-Day at Normandy was the key turning point in World War 2,” Huxen told VOA. “This was New Orleans great contribution to that war effort.”

A contribution repaid in 2000 when the National D-Day Museum opened to highlight the Crescent City’s role in the war effort. But some veterans who visited felt the museum needed more.

“You have to include all of the American experience in World War Two, why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today,” Huxen recalled.

The National D-Day Museum ultimately transformed into the National WWII Museum in 2004, and now occupies a campus that continues to grow in a $400 million expansion. Over 700,000 people a year visit, making it one of the most popular museums in the country. A restored Higgins boat is displayed at the entrance to the museum.

As world leaders gather in France for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion that marked beginning of the end of World War Two, the museum in New Orleans stands as a permanent memorial and tribute that closely connects the Crescent City to all who served and sacrificed in the deadliest conflict in human history.

​“I do not believe that our museum romanticizes World War Two,” Huxen says. “We try to show the realities. And the realities are pain and death and suffering for large parts of the world.”

“It hadn’t stayed with me to where I couldn’t sleep at night,” veteran Vinet says, reflecting on his service during the war. “But when I was in it, I couldn’t sleep at night.”

Vinet flew a number of missions behind the controls of a Consolidated B-24 Liberator in Europe as a bomber pilot in the final year of the war.

He is now part of a dwindling number from what NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation.” 

While more than 16 million people served in the U.S. armed forces during World War Two, today there are fewer than 500,000 veterans remaining who can pass along their stories, which Vinet recently started doing as a volunteer at the National WWII Museum.

“As you get older, in my case very old, the possibility of you going soon is very real,” he told VOA in a recent interview at the museum during one of his volunteer shifts.

“I want to spread the word out first hand. Before I leave,” he adds.

Vinet feels a sense of duty sharing stories of what he lived through, and what was lost. 

“Maybe it will prevent it happening again. War has changed. It won’t happen that way. World War Two, life was cheap. We lost people by the millions,” he said.

Some of the insights he shares with visitors to the museum, both young and old, are helping him accomplish one more mission.

“I thank them for asking me because somebody has to remember, especially the kids,” Vinet said.

And they thank him in return, both for sharing his stories, and for his service in the war General Dwight Eisenhower called “the Great Crusade” and a “noble undertaking.”

Trump Joining Other Leaders for D-Day Ceremonies

LONDON — Roderick James contributed to this report.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is hosting U.S. President Donald Trump along with leaders and other representatives from 14 nations for D-Day commemoration ceremonies Wednesday in the southern British city of Portsmouth.

May’s office released a statement highlighting the “historic international cooperation” involved in the massive operation to land forces across the English Channel in Normandy, France as allied militaries worked to defeat Nazi Germany.

“As we unite to pay tribute to those whose bravery and sacrifice on the beaches of Normandy marked a turning point in the Second World War, we will vow never to forget the debt we owe them,” May said. “Their solidarity and determination in the defense of our freedom remains a lesson to us all.”

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth is also taking part in the commemorations, including visiting with D-Day veterans along with Trump.

Trump’s schedule Wednesday features additional meetings with U.S. service members before he travels on to Ireland to meet with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.

The U.S. leader deployed a mix of diplomacy and barbs in his joint news conference with May in London Tuesday.

Trump said the United States is committed to a “phenomenal trade deal” with Britain as the country prepares to leave the European Union.

​”There is tremendous potential in that trade deal, probably two and even three times of what we’re doing right now,” Trump said.

Trump said he saw “no limitations” on future intelligence-sharing, despite disagreements over the threat posed by Chinese tech giant Huawei.

“We have an incredible intelligence relationship, and we will be able to work out any differences,” Trump said.

He also praised May, who is stepping down as Conservative Party leader on Friday, saying she has “done a very good job.”

But Trump described opposition Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has been critical of Trump, as a “negative force,” and said he would not meet with him during his visit. Trump also renewed his criticism of London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who wrote in The Observer newspaper that welcoming Trump for a state visit was “un-British.”

Chances of trade deal slim

May said she supported a bilateral trade deal. She praised the economic and trade relations between the countries as one that “helps to ensure there are jobs that employ people here in the U.K. and in the United States, that underpins our prosperity, and our future.”

But analyst Jacob Parakilas of Chatham House said the chances of achieving that trade deal anytime soon is slim.

He said with Brexit still uncertain, there was a pretty limited chance of anything substantive emerging, as well as “the inability to determine what a future U.S.-U.K. trade relationship will look like” without the resolution to the question of whether Britain will remain in the customs union or the single market with the European Union.

​’Where are the protests?’

While Trump and May held their joint news conference, protesters flooded the streets a block away.

They had various messages for the U.S. leader, including protesting his policies on the environment and climate change.

They also protested what they see as Trump’s attacks on values they uphold.

“Values like respect for other people, tolerance, nondiscrimination,” said Londoner Christine Fuchs. “Now, our government turns around and hosts someone with full stage honors, who stands against all those values.”

Women groups, some wearing red outfits similar to those in the hit TV series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” also protested what they view as the administration’s attacks on reproductive rights.

Though they focused on different causes, they were united in their rejection.

“My biggest problem with Trump is just the hate within him, and the fact that he can bring that hatred out in other people,” said Ethan Holden of Bournemouth.

​Trump dismissed the protests as “fake news” and said he felt only “tremendous love” from the British people. “And even coming over today, there were thousands of people cheering,” he said. “Where are the protests? I don’t see any protests.”

There appeared to be fewer protesters compared to the more than 100,000 who protested Trump on his visit here last year. Organizers point to the fact that it’s the middle of the work week, and blamed the weather, which drizzled for much of the day.

Support for Johnson, meeting with Farage

Trump, who has publicly backed former Foreign Minister Boris Johnson to replace Prime Minister May, predicted an agreement for Britain to leave the EU “will happen and that it should happen.” He said he thought Brexit was going to happen “because of immigration, more than anything else.”

Further wading into Britain’s divorce from the European Union, Trump met with Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, a strong critic of May, at the U.S. ambassador’s residence.

Watchdog Finds Global Press Freedom at Lowest Point in Decade

The U.S.-based democracy watchdog Freedom House says press freedom is declining around the world, right alongside political rights and civil liberties.

In its annual report released Wednesday, the nongovernmental group says global press freedom declined to its lowest point in more than a decade due to continued crackdowns on independent media in authoritarian states and unprecedented threats to journalists in traditionally free societies.

The reports finds press freedoms have been deteriorating across the world with “new forms of repression taking hold in open societies and authoritarian states alike.”

Sarah Repucci, senior director for research and analysis at Freedom House, told VOA that the report found declining press freedoms at “two ends of the spectrum.”

New tactics

On one hand, regimes that are known to stifle the press are continuing with “very familiar tactics: arrests of journalists, threats to their safety, repressive laws, defamation laws that criminalize free speech,” she said. But, on the other hand, the report found democratically elected leaders who use new tactics to “manipulate the media in ways that are very subtle that enable them to take control of the message that is getting to the population.”

The report assesses the degree of media freedom as either “free,” “partly free” or “not free.”

Freedom House characterizes a free press as a media environment where coverage of political news is robust, state intrusion in media affairs in minimal, the safety of journalists is guaranteed, and the press is not subject to legal and economic pressures.

The report found that a total of 16 nations designated as “free” have seen a reduction in press freedom scores during the past five years. But a disturbing trend showed that in Europe, where four out of every five countries are “free,” average press freedom scores dropped 8%.

Repucci, the report’s lead author, said countries such as Hungary and Serbia “dropped to ‘partly free’ in our freedom in the world survey and have been at the forefront of new tactics for repressing the media.”

Leaders in both countries “had great success in snuffing out critical journalism by consolidating media ownership in the hands of their cronies, ensuring that the outlets with the widest reach support the government and smear their perceived opponents,” the report said.

“But we’re also seeing this in democracies around the world, in India and Israel … and also here in the United States,” Repucci said, adding while the U.S. has in the past stood as the protector of free speech, that history is under threat. 

“The kinds of attacks that we’re seeing from the Trump administration are new and are very worrying,” she said. “These are verbal attacks on journalists, threats to change libel laws, threats against individual media outlets. And this is part of what appears to be a trend of undermining the respect that the government has for the role that the media is supposed to play in holding leaders to account.”

​Legal protections

Repucci said despite the efforts of the Trump administration, the U.S. maintains strong legal protections in the face of threats and attacks against individual media outlets.

“The major news media have been really strong in pushing back against these attacks and in continuing to publish information that holds leaders to account. But the concern is that norms may be changing, and that it will be difficult to get back to where we were before,” she said.

The report said the increasing influence of national leadership continues its disturbing trend, not only in countries that had been deemed “not free” but in countries that were seen as “partly free.”

“Over the past five years, countries that were already designated as ‘not free’ in Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report were also those most likely to suffer a decline in their press freedom scores, with 28 percent of ‘not free’ countries experiencing such a drop.

“‘Partly free’ countries were almost equally likely to experience a gain as a decline in press freedom,” the report noted.

Making things even worse is the increasing influence of nations like China.

As Western nations withdraw their support for global free press, “China is filling that gap, and that is very problematic for free media around the world,” Repucci said.

China is exporting its model of media repression to other countries, especially in Africa.

“They’re doing it by exporting their message and finding friendly outlets that will publish and broadcast that message. They’re doing it by putting pressure on journalists, but also diplomats and media owners in countries to censor, basically, on Beijing’s behalf,” Repucci said.

“If democratic powers cease to support media independence at home and impose no consequences for its restriction abroad, the free press corps could be in danger of virtual extinction,” the report said.

Harassment aimed at journalists

Violence and harassment aimed at specific journalists and media outlets have played a role in 63 percent of the countries that have seen a decline in press freedom, it said. The report cited the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at an embassy in Turkey as an example.

“Journalists in El Salvador received death threats in 2015 after they uncovered stories of police abuse and extrajudicial killings,” the report said. “A Malian journalist who was outspoken about rampant political corruption was shot in the chest in 2017. Also that year, a Tanzanian journalist investigating the murders of local officials disappeared, and his fate remains a mystery.”

Journalists have also faced imprisonment and threats in Nepal, Myanmar, Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia and France.

​But, Freedom House says not all is lost when it comes to press freedom.

Repucci cites Ethiopia, Malaysia, Armenia, Ecuador and Gambia as “encouraging examples” of countries where democratic progress has come hand in hand with media independence.

“Just as restrictions on media freedom frequently precede the erosion of other rights, the removal of such restrictions facilitates and catalyzes further democratic advancements,” the report said.

Repucci said she hopes media freedom will also spread in countries where the populations are fighting for increased political freedoms, such as in Sudan, Algeria and Venezuela.

“The importance of free media really is because of the ability that it gives the population to hold their leaders to account. And that’s why the decline in press freedom is so dangerous for democracy as a whole, and we hope that these positive trends will pick up, but we do have very grave concerns at this time” Repucci told VOA.