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Media freedom at its lowest level in 10 years

People take pictures at a square decorated with a giant world map in Lisbon, Portugal, 6 September 2017
People take pictures at a square decorated with a giant world map in Lisbon, Portugal, 6 September 2017

REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

This statement was originally published on on 29 November 2017.

New ARTICLE 19 metric measures global threats to freedom of expression and information

  • New metric measures the state of freedom of expression in 172 countries
  • Turkey, Brazil, Bangladesh, Burundi and Macedonia show a significant decline in free speech over the last ten years
  • Countries showing improvements include Tunisia, Kyrgyzstan, Romania and Sri Lanka
  • Global trends include a decline in media freedom, which is at its lowest level for a decade

Freedom of expression organisation, ARTICLE 19 has joined with the social science database V-Dem to launch a unique, authoritative assessment of freedom of expression and information worldwide. The Expression Agenda (XpA) metric uses a range of indicators to measure freedom of expression in 172 countries. V-Dem have also used historic data to identify the major free speech trends of the last ten years.

Read the XpA report and view the metric

Key findings

- Global media freedom is at its lowest level for ten years. In 2016 alone, 259 journalists were imprisoned worldwide, and 79 were killed.
- Internet censorship has become more pervasive since 2006 (the year that Twitter was launched, and Facebook and YouTube were still in their infancy). Algorithms are increasingly used to remove legal and illegal content with little transparency over the process or consideration of human rights.
- Much of
 the world's online content is now regulated by the community standards of a handful of internet companies, whose processes lack transparency and are not subject to the checks and balances of traditional governance.
- Private communications are being surveilled as never before, as states, including the UK, pass legislation to enable extensive digital surveillance.

- Governments are using unprecedented legal and other measures to silence dissenting voices and protest by individuals and civil society organisations. These tactics include labelling NGOs as 'foreign agents' and the illegal surveillance of NGOs and journalists.
- The call for greater transparency is one of the most significant positive shifts over the past decades, with right to information laws now in 119 countries.

Executive Director Thomas Hughes said:

"For the first time, we have a comprehensive and holistic overview of the state of free of expression and information around the world. Unfortunately, our findings show that freedom of expression is under attack in democracies as well as authoritarian regimes.

"The XpA Metric is a tool for understanding where governments are succeeding and failing in their duty to promote and protect our rights. We hope that it will help journalists, activists and policymakers to monitor free speech, challenge the threats to it and hold governments and companies to account.

"But it also offers us a positive guide for how freedom of expression and information can be realised so that we can all participate in public life, enjoy a private life, and exercise our right to free speech."

Global media freedom at lowest level for a decade

One of the most serious findings of the Expression Agenda (XpA) is that global media freedom is at its lowest level for a decade.

The rise of citizen journalists, bloggers and information activists has put more individuals and groups at risk than ever before. The threats they face include state repression, organised crime, business interests and religious fundamentalism. There has been an alarming rise in attacks on journalists, human rights defenders and activists who seek to expose corruption and abuse.

A decline of media pluralism has been accompanied by a parallel decline in democratic freedoms. Brazil, Turkey, Burundi, Egypt, Poland, Venezuela and Bangladesh have seen particularly disturbing drops in a diverse and independent media.

Shift in advertising revenues towards the internet has radically altered traditional media companies. Redundancies, cutbacks and the decline in salaried journalists are contributing to concerns about the future of accurate and reliable journalism in the 21st century. The control of information is increasingly in the hands of a few companies with search engines and algorithms now responsible for delivering news and information to digital audiences, and especially those using social media platforms.

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