The COVID-19 pandemic drove home just how vital access to accurate, reliable and timely information is during a global health crisis. It made it clear that freedom of expression is the fundamental human right enabling us all to demand the highest attainable standard of health.
When faced with such crises, governments have a fundamental duty to be transparent about their decisions, and a legal obligation to protect people’s lives.
And yet the GxR21 reveals that, rather than focusing on controlling the virus, protecting public health and improving access to information, governments presented a false choice between human rights and public health, wasting public money and valuable time by using the pandemic to entrench their power.
- During 2020, two thirds of all countries imposed restrictions on media in relation to the pandemic.
- Following the downward trend from 2019, the global score for Freedom of Expression and the Right to Information has reached its lowest point since 2010.
- The starkest deterioration in the GxR scores came from data looking at freedom of assembly and public participation in decision-making. Quinn McKew, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19, has described the decline in clear terms
“The global pandemic has brought the world to a tipping point, and where governments and private actors face a stark choice. They must either commit to building a world based on rights to expression and information or they must become bystanders to the rapid decline in the freedoms that sustain robust and engaged societies. In every community, in every country — if we are to address the serious global challenges we face — expression must be at the heart of new power relationships.”
— In 2020, 62 journalists were killed and a record number — 274 — were imprisoned. Journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders (HRDs), political activists and whistleblowers were arrested, detained and summoned for questioning, often arbitrarily, and prosecuted for criticising governments’ responses to COVID-19, expressing views on the pandemic, or sharing information, including in Palestine, Poland, Madagascar, Eswatini, India, Tunisia, Niger and Cameroon.
China, Turkey, and Egypt were the biggest jailers.
— Of 620 violations of press freedom recorded globally in the first 14 months of the pandemic, 34% were physical and verbal attacks on journalists; 34% were arrests of journalists, or charges filed against journalists and media organisations by governments; and a further 14% were government-imposed restrictions on access to information. Arrests quadrupled from March to May 2020, and harassment and physical attacks rose across the world – from Brazil to Italy, Kenya, Senegal, and Nigeria.
— Whistleblowers were inadequately protected – and, in many cases, even silenced by governments themselves. Most of this violence and harassment happened in a context of total impunity. Most murders of journalists do not even reach the headlines in international media. Even those that do, such as Jamal Khashoggi, Jan Kuciak and Daphne Caruana Galizia, do not get justice – even though high-level government officials were implicated in their deaths. In the case of Khashoggi, UN investigators faced death threats.
— In 2020, three-quarters of women journalists experienced online abuse and harassment. HRDs are also under attack. At least 331 were killed in 2020, 69% of whom were working on indigenous people’s or land rights.
— The majority of killings of human rights defenders took place in Latin America; Colombia alone accounted for 53% of murders of HRDs globally.
— Two-thirds of the world’s population – 4.9 billion people – are living in countries that are highly restricted or experiencing a free expression crisis, more than at any time in the last decade.
— Seven countries – with a combined population of 72 million people – saw a significant decline in their overall environment for freedom of expression.
— In Asia and the Pacific, 85% of the population lives in countries where free expression is in crisis or highly restricted – a 39% rise since 2010.
— In the Americas, the regional global score for freedom of expression is at its lowest in a decade.
—Not a single country in Africa has a good GxR score, meaning more people are living in countries where free expression is in crisis or highly restricted than have been in the last decade.
— In Europe and Central Asia, 34% of the population live in countries where free expression is in crisis.
— In the Middle East and North Africa, 72% of the population lives in countries in crisis.
Read about some of the GxR21’s key findings and read the GxR21
Measuring global freedom of expression
ARTICLE 19’s Global Expression Report is a comprehensive annual analysis of freedom of expression around the world. Now in its fourth year, the GxR analyses 161 countries, assessing not only the rights of journalists and civil society but also how much space there is for everyone to express and communicate, to access the information we need to participate in society and hold those with power to account.
A description of the GxR methodology is detailed in the report.
Changes to the GxR this year
Our analyses this year incorporate both the core V-Dem dataset and the pandemic violations of democratic standards index. In producing this Global Expression Report, ARTICLE 19 selected 25 indicators, which best matched with our broad and holistic view of freedom of expression. These indicators were included in a Bayesian measurement model for countries with available data from 2000 to 2020 to create our metric: the GxR.
About the data set
V-Dem draws on theoretical and methodological expertise from its worldwide team to produce data in the most objective and reliable way possible. Approximately half the indicators in the V-Dem dataset are based on factual information obtainable from official documents, such as constitutions and government records. The remainder consists of more subjective assessments on topics like democratic and governing practices, and compliance with de jure rules. On such issues, typically five experts provide ratings for the country, thematic area, and time period for which they have expertise.
For the 2021 report, ARTICLE 19 looked at GxR score changes across three time periods: the last year (2019–2020), the last five years (2015–2020), and the last 10 years (2010–2020). For each timeframe, we identified countries showing meaningful and holistic improvement or deterioration, defined by a significant score change over the period.
For our analyses, population data was pulled from the World Bank database. Populations reported for 2010–2019 are based on actuals, while 2020 is based on the World Bank 2020 projection. Eritrea is missing population data for 2012–2020, and Taiwan is not represented in the Word Bank data. The 2020 global population for the countries represented by our GxR data is 7,696,325,308.
For press queries
About ARTICLE 19.
Established in 1987 ARTICLE 19 works for a world where all people everywhere can freely express themselves and actively engage in public life without fear of discrimination. We do this by working on two interlocking freedoms: the Freedom to Speak, and the Freedom to Know. When either of these freedoms come under threat, ARTICLE 19 speaks with one voice.
Find out more about our work.