In the dropdown below the map, you can scroll between the overall index and the indices for academic, digital and media/press freedom. To identify countries within each rank, please click on the rank level in the list next to the map
How did we do it?
Making the most of available data covering a period until the end of 2021, innovative modelling techniques and expertise from Liverpool John Moores University, this pilot project updates the Index Index to model data from a range of trusted sources to rank countries from open to closed against 178 variables related to free expression.
Across Academic, Digital and Media/Press Freedom, the index modelled data compiled from a number of trusted sources including the World Press Freedom Index (compiled by Reporters Without Borders), the Varieties of Democracy research project (V-Dem), Committee to Protect Journalists, UNESCO’s Observatory of Killed Journalists, the Global Cybersecurity Index and Netblocks’ Cost of Shutdown Tool (COST). From these datasets, 178 relevant variables were identified and incorporated into the index.
Using machine learning techniques, each country for which there was available data for were clustered based on their standing against all variables and then sorted into deciles from open to closed. As a result of this process, the Index Index is made of four rankings, one overall Index, as well as rankings for each individual freedom: academic, digital and media/press freedom. For information about the countries covered in the Index Index, please see the notes at the bottom of the page.
What does it tell us?
What the Index Index shows is a globe with a diverse set of threats to free expression. The countries with the highest overall ranking are clustered around western Europe and Australasia. When drilled down, many of these countries also dominate the countries who are in the 1st decile (open) for each of the individual freedoms – Australia, Austria, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.
The closed countries (10th decile), such as China, Belarus, Burma/Myanmar, South Sudan, North Korea and Saudi Arabia have long clamped down on free expression. This is borne out in the overall ranking and is further developed on as Belarus, Burma/Myanmar, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Laos, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates were all in the 10th decile (closed) for all three individual freedoms. While many countries, such as Belarus, North Korea, and Eritrea, rated low on the index have been isolated from the global community, the Index Index also reveals how others, such as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are embedded in key international mechanisms including G20 and the UN Security Council without substantial protections for free expression.
At a time where threats to free expression show few signs of slowing down, gaining a country-by-country view of threats to academic, digital and media/press freedom is the first necessary step towards identifying what needs to change. As an index of existing metrics, the Index Index also reveals gaps in what we know. Before we can protect free expression everywhere we need to be able to monitor all threats and identify who is behind them. To do this we need data across every measure for every country that can be verified and shared with partners and policy-makers. As the Index Index grows and develops beyond this pilot year, it can both map threats to free expression but also where we need to focus our efforts to ensure that academics, artists, writers, journalists, campaigners and civil society do not suffer in silence.
The Index Index comes at a time of increased threats to free expression everywhere. Authoritarian power has been consolidated in countries such as Belarus, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Burma/Myanmar, with opposition leaders, journalists, protestors, educators, artists, and activists being targeted with censorship, arrest, detention and even threats of violence. Civil conflict and its aftermath, in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and South Sudan has severely hindered the development and maintenance of a vibrant civic space, while free expression in established democracies, such as the UK and USA, has faced unprecedented threats.
In 2021, the Committee to Protect Journalists monitored 45 deaths of journalists, with 302 journalists imprisoned as of 1 December 2021. The number of journalists behind bars was the highest number recorded, with China remaining the world’s worst jailer of journalists for the third year in a row, with Burma/Myanmar just behind after the media crackdown that followed the February military coup.
Online technology has redefined how people realise their right to free expression. Whether it is social media networks to connect with others or online archives to support independent research or reporting where the state controls all access to public interest information, the ability to access online tools shapes the broader free expression landscape. However, the same technology that can empower free expression can also be used to target those speaking out. Surveillance tools, including those developed by private companies, are commonly deployed against activists and journalists in both authoritarian and democratic countries to bypass encryption and monitor communication. Technical analysis based on leaked data and forensic analysis of phones uncovered evidence that contacts close to murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi were targeted by Pegasus surveillance tools prior to and following the brutal murder of the journalist. Nation states are also becoming more and more adept at controlling both access and the content available on online platforms. Internet slowdowns and shutdowns, targeted either at the entire nationwide infrastructure or specific platforms, impact all users of online services solely to stifle critical speech or disrupt dissident organising. While this may be a blunt instrument, other states, such as Russia and China, deploy more targeted censorship to block access to individual websites, including those of independent media outlets. To map free expression we must also map digital freedom to identify the barriers to expression that can consolidate state control and restrict critical speech.
Academics, researchers and teachers, as well as journalists and media workers are distinct threats to authoritarian regimes as they promote the free exchange of ideas and information, while also providing the public with necessary information upon which to participate in civic society. This is antithetical to many countries who seek to restrict and control all information available to the public. As a result, many academics and journalists face significant barriers to being able to continue their important work. This includes threats of physical violence, organised smear campaigns, calls to discredit individuals, and legal threats aimed at isolating and delaying writing and research produced in the public interest.
What the Index Index shows is a complex free expression landscape where threats can come from a number of diverse and challenging places, threatening the ability of groups and individuals to speak up, challenge power and realise their fundamental freedoms.
Below find a table of all countries included in the Index Index. It highlights their ranking in the overall index, as well as the ranking for each individual freedom. Please note: The countries within each rank are sorted alphabetically. You can drill down into the data of the Index Index by clicking on the column headings to sort alphabetically or by ranking. Click on a country name to see Index’s work in that country. Use the search box to find a specific country.
Please note: The countries within each rank are sorted alphabetically