Major new global free expression index sees UK ranking stumble across academic, digital and media freedom

A major new global ranking index tracking the state of free expression published today (Wednesday, 25 January) by Index on Censorship sees the UK ranked as only “partially open” in every key area measured.

In the overall rankings, the UK fell below countries including Australia, Israel, Costa Rica, Chile, Jamaica and Japan. European neighbours such as Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and Denmark also all rank higher than the UK.

The Index Index, developed by Index on Censorship and experts in machine learning and journalism at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), uses innovative machine learning techniques to map the free expression landscape across the globe, giving a country-by-country view of the state of free expression across academic, digital and media/press freedoms.

Key findings include:

  • The countries with the highest ranking (“open”) on the overall Index are clustered around western Europe and Australasia – Australia, Austria, Belgium, Costa Rica, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland.

  • The UK and USA join countries such as Botswana, Czechia, Greece, Moldova, Panama, Romania, South Africa and Tunisia ranked as “partially open”.

  • The poorest performing countries across all metrics, ranked as “closed”, are Bahrain, Belarus, Burma/Myanmar, China, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Eswatini, Laos, Nicaragua, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

  • Countries such as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates performed poorly in the Index Index but are embedded in key international mechanisms including G20 and the UN Security Council.

Ruth Anderson, Index on Censorship CEO, said:

“The launch of the new Index Index is a landmark moment in how we track freedom of expression in key areas across the world. Index on Censorship and the team at Liverpool John Moores University have developed a rankings system that provides a unique insight into the freedom of expression landscape in every country for which data is available.

“The findings of the pilot project are illuminating, surprising and concerning in equal measure. The United Kingdom ranking may well raise some eyebrows, though is not entirely unexpected. Index on Censorship’s recent work on issues as diverse as Chinese Communist Party influence in the art world through to the chilling effect of the UK Government’s Online Safety Bill all point to backward steps for a country that has long viewed itself as a bastion of freedom of expression.

“On a global scale, the Index Index shines a light once again on those countries such as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates with considerable influence on international bodies and mechanisms – but with barely any protections for freedom of expression across the digital, academic and media spheres.”

Nik Williams, Index on Censorship policy and campaigns officer, said:

“With global threats to free expression growing, developing an accurate country-by-country view of threats to academic, digital and media freedom is the first necessary step towards identifying what needs to change. With gaps in current data sets, it is hoped that future ‘Index Index’ rankings will have further country-level data that can be verified and shared with partners and policy-makers.

“As the ‘Index Index’ grows and develops beyond this pilot year, it will not only 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.”

Steve Harrison, LJMU senior lecturer in journalism, said: 

“Journalists need credible and authoritative sources of information to counter the glut of dis-information and downright untruths which we’re being bombarded with these days. The Index Index is one such source, and LJMU is proud to have played our part in developing it.

“We hope it becomes a useful tool for journalists investigating censorship, as well as a learning resource for students. Journalism has been defined as providing information someone, somewhere wants suppressed – the Index Index goes some way to living up to that definition.”

Contents – Crown confidential: How Britain’s royals censor their records

The winter issue of Index takes as its central theme the censorship of British royal history.

With the recent death of Queen Elizabeth II putting the UK under increased global scrutiny, Index looked at the battle to access royal archives.

Index spoke to historians, academics, and writers, and were surprised at the number of historic files on the Royal Family which are unavailable, and the absurdity of the reasons for denying access to some of them. We have one simple request: end this secretive culture by opening up official archives related to the Royal Family.

Up front

Royal secrecy has no place in a democracy by Jemimah Steinfeld:  We need an end to the UK tradition of keeping royal archives secret.

The Index by Mark Frary: The latest news from the free speech frontlines. Big impact elections, stirring words from the sister of a jailed British-Egyptian activist and a note on billionaire social media takeovers


Mexico’s truth stares down barrel of a gun, by Chris Havler-Barrett: An overreaching military tightens its firm grip in a country mired by violence.

The war the world forgot, by Jemimah Steinfeld: Inside the book exposing the raw truth of the ongoing war in Yemen.

A dissident hero, by Jo-Ann Mort: A journey back to the dissident foundations of Index, through Pavel Litvinov’s memories.

The truth is in the telling, by Kaya Genç: Who decides the limits of disinformation? In Turkey, the government wields the power.

Reaching for an emotional flak jacket, by Rachael Jolley: Trauma takes its toll on journalists, whose mental health is swept under the rug. But are times changing?

Bad seeds, by Vandana Shiva: In seed banks in India, farmers claw back control and give a voice to nature.

Singapore’s elastic band of a Public Order Act, by Kirsten Han: A threat of prison for peaceful protesters, unless you’re in with the right people.

Hong Kong’s valiants with a message for the world, by Yeung Willie Sau: Even in in the face of totalitarianism, the activist chronicling protesters’ journeys refuses to be silenced

Press under pressure, by Alessio Perrone: A new government threatens further erasure of media freedom in Italy – just don’t call them right-wing.

Radical timelines, by Lili Rutai, Mehran Bhat, and Muqeet Shah and Andrew Mambondiyani: A round-the-world tour of social media’s power to both platform and silence.

Tapestry of tyranny, by Katie Dancey-Downs: The embroidery collective stitching stories of Belarus’s political prisoners.

Special Report: Crown confidential

Crown confidential, by Martin Bright: An exclusive Index investigation into the extent Britain’s royals want to control their own story.

Secrets, lies and a costly legal battle, by Andrew Lownie: One historian’s hard fight to reveal the truth about the Mountbattens.

A royal reckoning, by Jenny Hocking: The Queen meddled in an Australian election and then meddled in the history.


Down with a disclaimer, by Marc Nash:  The crowning glory of the argument against labelling art in the case of The Crown.

The Satanic Verses is the rude contrary of the authoritarian lie, Hanif Kureishi: A celebration of Salman Rushdie’s work and an unwavering stand against the spectre of fascism.

Jamaica needs to be a republic – now, by Roselea Hamilton: Support for the monarchy is fading on this commonwealth island.

Report first, talk later…, by Richard Sambrook: Has pressing emotional buttons become the driving force of news?

UK law risks criminalising the innocent, by Danny Shaw:  The most draconian piece of legislation in years will kill protest.

Crowning glory, by Ben Jennings: Announcing the birth of a right royal cartoon.

Challenge the gatekeepers, by Ruth Anderson: We need a conversation about where lines are drawn and by whom.


Russia’s exiled author writes back: by Martin Bright and Zinovy Zinik: An exclusive new story from an author who escaped under the Iron Curtain.

The Unbeaten, by Jemimah Steinfeld: Unpacking samizdat success, writing from Ukraine and keeping creative spirit alive, over coffee with Andrey Kurkov.

The smile that says a thousand words, by Katie Dancey-Downs and Danson Kahyana:  A Ugandan poet turns the trauma of an attack into an act of bravery.

Truth, down under, by Francis Clarke and Diane Fahey: Falling for fake news like lemmings off a cliff.

Last word, by Masih Alinejad: The Iranian activist on the growing protest movement and what book she’d read in prison.

Index Index

What is the Index Index? The Index Index is a pilot project that uses innovative machine learning techniques to map the free expression landscape across the globe to gain a clearer country-by-country view of the state of free expression across academic, digital and...

Banned Books Week: Whose Voices Are Still Being Censored?

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”114632″ img_size=”large”][vc_column_text]Banned Books Week 2020 (27 September–3 October) takes place four months after George Floyd’s murder led to a global resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, and three months after the publication of the Rethinking Diversity in Publishing report, which demonstrated the particular challenges writers of colour still encounter.

Taking Banned Books Week’s theme as its starting point – a celebration of the freedom to read – our panel take stock of the commitments to inclusion and representation that have been made in publishing over the last few months. With representatives from the books industry – from editors to heads of writers’ organisations – this webinar will explore how we work together to celebrate marginalised voices in literature.


Adam Freudenheim is the Publisher and Managing Director of Pushkin Press. He has worked in publishing since 1998 and was Publisher of Penguin Classics, Modern Classics and Reference from 2004 to 2012. Adam joined Pushkin in May 2012, where he has launched the Pushkin Children’s Books, Pushkin Vertigo and ONE imprints, and he is particularly proud to have published the first translation of The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt and Jakob Wegelius’s dazzlingly original The Murderer’s Ape; as well as to have introduced the acclaimed American short story writer Edith Pearlman to British readers (with Binocular Vision) and Israeli writer Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (her most recent novel is Liar).

Sharmaine Lovegrove is the Publisher of Dialogue Books, the UK’s only inclusive imprint, part of Little, Brown Book Group and Hachette UK. Dialogue Books is a home for a variety of stories from illuminating voices often missing from the mainstream. Sharmaine was the recipient of the Future Book Publishing Person of the Year 2018/19 and is inspired by innovative storytelling, and has worked in public relations, bookselling, events management and TV scouting. She was the literary editor of ELLE and set up her own bookshop and creative agency when living in Berlin. Sharmaine serves on the boards of The Black Cultural Archives, The Watershed and is an founding organiser of The Black Writers Guild. Home is London, she lives in Berlin and her roots are Jamaican – Sharmaine is proud to be part of the African diaspora and books make her feel part of the world.

Claire Malcolm is the founding Chief Executive of the literary charity New Writing North where she oversees flagship projects such as the David Cohen Literature Award, Gordon Burn Prize, the Northern Writers’ Awards and Durham Book Festival and award-winning work with young people. She works with partners from across the creative industries and charity and public sectors including Penguin Random House, Hachette, Faber and Faber, Channel 4 and the BBC to develop talent in the North. Claire is a trustee of the reading charity BookTrust, the Community Foundation Tyne and Wear and a board member of the North East Cultural Partnership.

Aki Schilz is the Director of The Literary Consultancy, which runsediting services, mentoring and literary events. At TLC Aki co-ordinates partnerships and programmes, including running the Quality Writing for All campaign which focuses on inclusivity and diversity. In 2018 Aki was named as one of the FutureBook 40, a list of people innovating the publishing industry, and was also nominated for an h100 Award for her work with the #BookJobTransparency campaign. In 2019 she was shortlisted for the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize for women in publishing, and in 2020 was named as one of INvolve’s Top 100 Ethnic Minority Future Leaders.


In partnership with the Royal Society of Literature, English PEN, the British Library and the Black Writers’ Guild.


This event is FREE for all. Please register here.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”114627″ img_size=”large”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text][/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]