October 2020 is an intensely busy month around the world for elections in democratic states and other societies. Before Americans officially vote on November 3, at least 11 other national elections and three major referenda will have taken place—from New Zealand to Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania to Bolivia, Tanzania to Chile. The stakes are high everywhere, but in many places, incumbent leaders have cracked down on independent media or found other ways to challenge free expression and public assembly in order to influence the results. The global coronavirus pandemic has been a complicating factor, giving many autocrats cover for interfering with orderly transfers of power.
This transatlantic forum explored whether the threat to free speech is becoming a worldwide phenomenon and discussed the myriad consequences for democracy and freedom. Speaking from Washington, London, Berlin, Oxford, and New York, American diplomat Donald McHenry, British human rights activist Baroness Mary Goudie, German editor Michael Naumann, and Indian journalist Salil Tripathi engaged with a worldwide audience. The conversation was moderated by Professor Michael Scott, Senior Dean and Fellow at Blackfriars Hall, the University of Oxford, and Sanford J. Ungar, director of the Free Speech Project at Georgetown University.