A new report by Article 19, a freedom of expression campaign group, has found that media outlets around the world are facing a level of oppression that has not been seen in more than a decade. Last year, 259 journalists were jailed and 79 were killed.
Countries like Turkey, Brazil, Bangladesh, Burundi and Macedonia have suffered from a substantial fall in free speech while the metric shows that Mauritius has been doing better than most of its fellow African countries. However, the metric was based on data from last year and did not take into consideration recent events like the persecution of journalists in the Yerrigadoogate for example. According to Thomas Hughes, executive director of the group, these are worrying times for the press. “We are witnessing a time when governments worldwide are retreating from the commitment to human rights,” wrote Hughes in an introduction to the report. “Freedom of expression is often the first casualty: censorship in the name of national security, new laws to protect us from offensive speech, and unprecedented surveillance of our private communications.”
Another major concern highlighted by the report is the trend that seems to indicate dependence on online content, which is regulated by a few global companies with almost no transparency. “The question of who controls information has become one of the leading issues of our time: our data is increasingly in the hands of private companies and censorship is no longer solely executed by humans, but now also by algorithms,” claims Hughes in the report.
In spite of a seemingly alarming time for free speech, the report praises how the technological revolution has encouraged whistleblowers to come forward and has led to data dumps like WikiLeaks and the Panama Papers. While there are also positive words for the fact that the right to information has dedicated legislation in 119 countries, the outcome is still a cause for concern. “With it, inevitably, have come new attempts to control access to information, including the use of national security and counterterrorism legislation to harass whistleblowers and shut down investigations,” argues Hughes in the report from Article 19.
Based on the metric in the report, Denmark and Switzerland are at the top of the list for freedom of expression while North Korea and Syria close it off.