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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The coronavirus is providing cover to autocrats, dictators, and even some democratically-elected leaders who were already looking for reasons to undermine the independent media.

Driving the news: Recent examples show the press is being shut out by the government under the guise of stopping misinformation from spreading about the pandemic.

  • In Hungary, the government passed a law Monday granting sweeping emergency powers that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán claims will help battle the coronavirus. The law includes the power to punish those who spread "false information" about the pandemic with up to five years in prison, per NPR.
  • In Egypt, authorities forced a Guardian journalist to leave the country after she reported on a scientific study from infectious disease specialists from the University of Toronto that said that the country was likely to have many more coronavirus cases than have been officially confirmed, per The Guardian.
  • In the Philippines, journalists may face jail sentences of up to two months for "spreading false information" about the virus and a fine of up to $20,000, per CNN.
  • In Iran, where coronavirus cases have soared, authorities have moved to aggressively contain independent reporting about the virus by harassing and detaining journalists, per VOA. Officials have also ordered that the media only use official statistics when covering COVID-19.
  • In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has downplayed the virus as a media trick. His efforts to blame the media for overstating the pandemic, some fear, could be a playbook for other world leaders to use to downplay the crisis.

In the U.S., President Trump has continued to belittle the press for its coverage of the virus at live press conferences and on Twitter.

  • On Monday, President Trump deflected blame onto the Washington Post when asked about allegations that China — as well as Russia and Iran — is spreading coronavirus misinformation, saying "every country does it."
  • Trump last week attacked NBC News reporter Peter Alexander during a live television briefing after being asked what he would say to Americans that were worried about the coronavirus, a question Alexander later said he thought was a "softball," or an opportunity for the president to answer an easy question.

Between the lines: The president's actions, some fear, give credence to leaders abroad and locally in the U.S. to continue to attack press that they don't like.

  • Case-in-point: Over the weekend Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, an ally to President Trump, blocked a reporter from attending a coronavirus press briefing. Days earlier, that reporter had asked if briefings could be moved online to protect reporters' health.

The big picture: Around the world, press freedoms have already been begun to erode as leaders try to crack down on independent media as a way to consolidate power.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
57 mins ago - Economy & Business

Trump blocks banks from limiting loans to gun and oil companies

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Big banks are no longer allowed to reject business loan applicants because of the industry in which they operate, according to a new rule finalized on Thursday by the Trump administration.

Why it matters: Wall Street has curtailed its exposure to industries like guns, oil and private prisons, driven by both public and shareholder pressures. This new rule could reverse that trend.

Former FDA commissioner: "Reliable drug supply is absolutely critical"

Axios' Caitlin Owens and former FDA commissioner Mark McClellan. Photo courtesy of Axios Events

Having a reliable supply of pharmaceutical drugs throughout America will be "absolutely critical" to boosting affordability in health care during the Biden administration, former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Mark McClellan said at a virtual Axios Event on Friday.

The big picture: McClellan, who served under President George W. Bush, says drugs having limited supply and limited competition leads to elevated pricing. He considers drug supply to be a national security and public health issue.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
4 hours ago - Economy & Business

Americans are still spending money

Source: Census Bureau; Chart: Axios Visuals

Americans spent more money at stores and restaurants in 2020 than they did in 2019 — even in the face of a devastating global pandemic that shut down broad sectors of the economy.

Why it matters: The monthly retail sales report this morning came in well below expectations, and showed consumer spending falling on a seasonally-adjusted basis. Total expenditures were still higher in December 2020 than they were a year previously, however.