Media freedom around the world has fallen to the lowest level in at least a decade, according to a study that shows journalists are threatened by government censorship, organized crime and commercial pressures caused by the growth of the Internet.
Turkey has experienced the biggest decline in freedom of speech over the past decade, but Brazil, Burundi, Egypt, Poland, Venezuela and Bangladesh have also had a disturbing decline in the diversity and independence of the media, the report said.
“For the first time, we have a comprehensive and holistic overview of the state of freedom of expression and information around the world,” said Thomas Hughes, executive director of Article 19, the freedom of expression campaign group which produced the report in conjunction with V-Dem, a political and social database.
Illustration: Louise Ting
“Unfortunately, our findings show that freedom of expression is under attack in democracies as well as authoritarian regimes,” he added.
The report’s authors measured freedom of expression in 172 countries between 2006 and last year through a metric they have described as the “Expression Agenda.”
This is based on 32 social and political indicators such as media bias and corruption, Internet censorship, access to justice, harassment of journalists and equality for social classes and genders.
Hughes said journalists were threatened by intimidation, prosecution and even murder in some parts of the world; there were 426 attacks against journalists and media outlets in Mexico last year alone. He said the UK was responsible for one of the most draconian surveillance legislation in the form of the Investigatory Powers Act, which “offers a template for authoritarian regimes and seriously undermining the rights of its citizens to privacy and freedom of expression.”
The freedom of the media globally is further threatened by the rise of the Internet because online content is being controlled by a handful of Internet companies whose processes “lack transparency,” commercial pressure on news providers has led to redundancies and cuts in investment, and the “vast majority of countries,” including China, restrict access to a range of Web sites, the report said.
The report found that 259 journalists were jailed last year and 79 were killed. Areas of concern include the vulnerability of journalists reporting on or criticizing the “war on drugs” in the Philippines, Mexico and Honduras, and intimidation and malicious charges against opposing voices to the Erdogan regime in Turkey.
“Global media freedom is at its lowest level since the start of the century,” the report said.
Opposition parties have said that as of April this year, 152 Turkish journalists were in prison.
More than 170 media organizations have been shut down since last year’s coup, including newspapers, Web sites, TV stations and news agencies, and 2,500 journalists have been laid off.
On a brighter note, Article 19 said there were improvements in countries including Tunisia, Sri Lanka and Nepal, and also praised the introduction of freedom of information laws in 119 countries.
Another group, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), warned there has “never been a more dangerous time to be a journalist.”
It said US President Donald Trump’s attacks on the “fake news” media in the US were sending a message to authoritarian leaders that it is acceptable to crack down on the press, pointing to recent criticism of CNN by the Egyptian government for its coverage of the terrorist attack on a mosque in Sinai.
CPJ deputy executive director Robert Mahoney said: “The United States has traditionally been a beacon of press freedom and defender of journalists, but a barrage of anti-press rhetoric from President Trump undermines the role of the press in a democracy and potentially endangers journalists.”
“Labeling reporting you don’t like as ‘fake news’ sends a signal to authoritarian leaders globally that it’s OK to crack down on the press. It did not take the Egyptian foreign ministry long to seize on Trump’s attack on CNN International this month to try to draw attention away from the message to the messenger,” he added.
Francesca Unsworth, director of the BBC World Service Group, which is the biggest international news broadcaster, warned that the rise of new economic powerhouses that do not fully support freedom of expression would threaten media freedom in the 21st century.
“We are dealing with a world I don’t think buys into enlightenment values of freedom of expression as part of economic development,” she said.
“We see the rise of the economic powerhouses of the far east — China, Vietnam — which don’t have the values of freedom of expression going along with economic development. So I think that is a real problem because if the 21st century belongs to those economies then that is going to shape the future of the world,” she added.
Unsworth said China is trying to spread its influence in Africa and the Caribbean by investing in the local media alongside vast spending on improving infrastructure.
“What the Chinese have seen is that alongside putting in a load of investment in infrastructure they also need to spend money on the media landscape in those areas,” she said. “So they have invested in partnerships with television and media companies in Africa and the Caribbean. It is a way of them getting a foothold in those countries in order to have some kind of influence on the agenda there.”
BBC World Service journalists face particular pressure in Iran over the London-based Persian service.
Iranian authorities have frozen the assets of at least 152 BBC Persian journalists and former contributors — preventing them from conducting financial transactions or selling properties in their homeland — and summoned family members of BBC staff who live in the country for questioning.
The BBC has appealed to the UN regarding the conduct of the Iranian government.
Chinese strongman Xi Jinping (習近平) hasn’t had a very good spring, either economically or politically. Not that long ago, he seemed to be riding high. The PRC economy had been on a long winning streak of more than six percent annual growth, catapulting the world’s most populous nation into the second-largest power, behind only the United States. Hundreds of millions had been brought out of poverty. Beijing’s military too had emerged as the most powerful in Asia, lagging only behind the US, the long-time leader on the global stage. One can attribute much of the recent downturn to the international economic
An outrageous dismissal of the exemplary Taiwanese fight against COVID-19 has been perpetrated by the EU. There is no excuse. I presume that everyone who reads the Taipei Times knows that the EU has excluded Taiwan from its so-called “safe list,” which permits citizens unhindered travel to and from the countries of the EU. As the EU does not feel that it needs to explain the character of this exclusive list, perhaps we should examine it ourselves in some detail. There are 14 nations on the list that have been chosen as safe countries of origin and safe countries of destination for
Filmmakers in Taiwan used to struggle when it came to telling a story that could resonate internationally. Things started to change when the 2017 drama series The Teenage Psychic (通靈少女), a collaboration between HBO Asia and Taiwanese Public Television Service (PTS), became a huge hit not just locally, but also internationally. The coming-of-age story was adapted from the 2013 PTS-produced short film The Busy Young Psychic (神算). Entirely filmed in Taiwan, the Mandarin-language series even made it on HBO’s streaming platforms in the US. It is proof that a well-told Taiwanese story can absolutely win the hearts and minds of hard-to-please