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Global Expression Report 2018-19: global freedom of expression at a ten-year low

Global Expression Report 2018-19: global freedom of expression at a ten-year low - Media

Summary

The Global Expression Report 2018-19 shows that global freedom of expression at its lowest for a decade. Gains that were made between 2008 – 2013 have been eroded over the last five years. Repressive responses to street protests are contributing to the decline in freedom of expression around the world. A rise in digital authoritarianism sees governments taking control of internet infrastructure, increasing online surveillance and controlling content. The numbers of journalists, communicators and human rights defenders being imprisoned, attacked and killed continues to increase. 66 countries – with a combined population of more than 5.5 billion people – saw a decline in their overall freedom of expression environment last decade.

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Global Expression Report 2018-19: media pack

  • The Global Expression Report 2018-19 shows that global freedom of expression at its lowest for a decade. Gains that were made between 2008 – 2013 have been eroded over the last five years.
  • Repressive responses to street protests are contributing to the decline in freedom of expression around the world.
  • A rise in digital authoritarianism sees governments taking control of internet infrastructure, increasing online surveillance and controlling content.
  • The numbers of journalists, communicators and human rights defenders being imprisoned, attacked and killed continues to increase.
  • 66 countries – with a combined population of more than 5.5 billion people – saw a decline in their overall freedom of expression environment last decade.

Comment from Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19:

“Almost ten years ago, the Arab Spring offered hope to people across the world that repressive governments would not be able to retain power when faced with protestors, empowered as never before with access to information and digital tools for organising.

“Today, protests continue to take place around the world but our report shows that global freedom of expression remains at a ten-year low and that many of the gains made in the earlier part of the decade have been lost.

“Some of these threats are not new: governments are still using state violence and judicial harassment to close down protests. Journalists, communicators and human rights defenders are still being imprisoned, attacked and killed with impunity. But we are also seeing a rise in digital authoritarianism where governments are using digital technology to surveill their citizens, restrict content and shut down communications.”

“Governments need to take action to reverse this trend and uphold their citizens’ right to freedom of expression.”

KEY TRENDS

  1. Street protests can impact broader free speech trends

The global score for civic space, which includes the right to protest, is lower than it was ten years ago in every region except the Middle East and North Africa (see regional variations below). Street protest is still a key tool for people to voice concerns to political leaders, as evidenced by the number of street protests that have taken place in 2018 and 2019. One of the reasons for this increase is that protests are viewed as the only way to be heard, particularly in countries where elections are perceived to be unfair or an attempt by the ruling party to consolidate more power.

The report suggests that governments’ responses to protests can have a major impact on broader freedom of expression.  In some countries, street protests led to accelerated changes where freedom of expression was already advancing or declining. In Armenia and Ethiopia, which have advancing expression scores, protests paved the way for greater democratic reform.  In Venezuela and Nicaragua, repressive tactics to quash protests accelerated overall declines in these countries’ freedom of expression scores.

  1. Digital authoritarianism is on the rise 

Digital freedom of expression is lower than it was 10 years ago in every region except the Middle East and North Africa. This is largely due to a rise in digital authoritarianism with governments increasingly undermining freedom of expression online through: internet shutdowns; content restrictions; weakening encryption; increased surveillance; banning secure messaging apps; and data localisation.

  1. Threats to journalists, communicators and human rights defenders increase

Media freedom is lower than it was 10 years ago in every region except the Middle East and North Africa.  Protection, which measures the safety and security of those who express themselves, is lower than it was 10 years ago in every region except Africa, where it has stayed the same and the Middle East and North Africa, where it has improved. Overall threats to the safety of journalists and other communicators and human rights defenders are rising. More journalists and human rights defenders were killed and imprisoned in 2018 than in 2017.  There were also more journalists imprisoned with Turkey, China and Egypt among the worst offenders.

4. Regional variations

Freedom of expression in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is significantly lower than in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe and Central Asia (see Table 1 below).

Although the MENA score is the only one to rise over the decade, freedom of expression is being severely suppressed by state violence, judicial harassment and repressive laws.  The Arab Spring protests led to a total regime change in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen. However, our report shows that freedom of expression in Tunisia and Libya has improved but freedom of expression in Egypt and Yemen is worse, suggesting that regime change must be accompanied by constitutional guarantees for human rights and steady institution-building if improvements to free speech are to be sustained.

 

Table 1: Freedom of expression scores for regions of the world, 2008–18

  2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Africa 0.43 0.43 0.44 0.43 0.43 0.43 0.43 0.43 0.42 0.41 0.42
Americas 0.65 0.65 0.64 0.65 0.64 0.63 0.63 0.62 0.62 0.60 0.59
APAa 0.49 0.50 0.49 0.50 0.49 0.48 0.47 0.47 0.46 0.45 0.46
ECAb 0.69 0.70 0.70 0.70 0.69 0.68 0.67 0.67 0.66 0.65 0.65
MENAc 0.21 0.21 0.21 0.21 0.27 0.27 0.26 0.25 0.25 0.24 0.25
Average Country Score 0.53 0.53 0.53 0.53 0.53 0.52 0.52 0.51 0.51 0.50 0.50

 

Measuring global freedom of expression

ARTICLE 19’s Global Expression Report 2018-19 is the most comprehensive annual analysis of freedom of expression around the world. 161 countries are covered in the Global Expression Report this year. 

The Global Expression Report analyses data from 39 indicators generated from V-Dem researchers, and applies them across five pillars of freedom of expression: Transparency, Civic Space, Protection, Digital and Media. For each country an “XpA score” is created to show the state of their overall freedom of expression. There are separate scores for the pillars listed above.

Contact

For an advance copy of the Global Expression Report 2018-19, contact [email protected], 07749 785 932.