Sun, Dec 03, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Global press freedom plunges to a dire level

A study found that freedom of expression is at its lowest point since 2000, with reporters facing violence, prosecution and financial ruin in dozens of countries

By Graham Ruddick  /  The Guardian

Illustration: Louise Ting

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.

“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.

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