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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.”
The undersigned regional and international NGOs join Tunisian organisations in their demands that the government immediately withdraw a draft law on the broadcasting regulator which fails to meet international standards on freedom of expression and independent broadcasting in democratic countries.
As part of the important process of harmonising Tunisian legislation with the 2014 Constitution, a draft law was submitted to the Assembly of People’s Representatives in December 2017 and it is currently under review by the parliamentary Commission of Rights and Freedoms. The draft law would partly replace the existing legislation in this area -Decree-Law No. 116-2011, on the Freedom of Broadcasting Communication and the creation of the Higher Independent Audio-Visual Communication Authority (HAICA) – with new legislation solely establishing a new broadcasting regulator, the Audio-Visual Commission.
The draft law and associated reforms have already been criticised by civil society, as the bill was prepared by the Tunisian government without substantial prior dialogue with local human rights and professional groups.
In June and again in December 2017, Tunisian and international human rights and professional groups wrote open letters to President Beji Caid Essebsi, Parliament Speaker Mohamed Ennacer and Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, expressing their deep concern about the draft law, its “unsatisfactory wording”, the “dangerous restrictions” of the prerogatives of the broadcasting regulator it would create, and the “deficiencies in the safeguards guaranteeing” its independence. They also explained that fragmenting of the legal framework “would open the door to ambiguity, conflict and limitation of the freedom of audiovisual communication and the independence of the regulatory body.” There has been no response.
Two legal analyses of the draft Law were made public in Tunis in early January 2018 by Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State (VDCS) and by ARTICLE 19, which concluded that the draft law did not comply with applicable international standards.
We, the undersigned, call on the Tunisian government to immediately withdraw its draft law and initiate a constructive dialogue with relevant civil society and professional groups, independent media experts, and members of parliament. Such a dialogue would help pave the way for the adoption of a comprehensive audiovisual law, in line with the 2014 Constitution and international standards.
Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State
7amleh – Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media
Adil Soz – International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC)
Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS)
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
Center for Independent Journalism – Romania
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR)
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Digital Rights Foundation
Foro de Periodismo Argentino
Foundation for Press Freedom – FLIP
I’lam Arab Center for Media Freedom Development and Research
Independent Journalism Center – Moldova
Index on Censorship
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ)
Pacific Islands News Association
Pakistan Press Foundation
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA)
Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
Trinidad and Tobago’s Publishers and Broadcasters Association
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
Arab Society for Academic Freedoms
Association Ifouki Media Bladi (IBM), Morocco
Community Media Solutions (CMSO)
Community Radios Association (ARAM), Morocco
Center for Media Freedom (CMF), Morocco
Organization for Freedom of Expression and of the Media (OLIE), Morocco
Forum for alternatives in Morocco (FEMAS)
Freedom Now, Morocco
International Media Support (IMS)
Lawyers for Justice in Libya
Libya Al-Mostakbal Center for Media and Culture
Libyan Center for Press freedom (LCPF)
Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism (AMJI)
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”96621″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]Governments have arsenals of weapons to censor information. The worst are well-known: detention, torture, extra-judicial (and sometimes court-sanctioned) killing, surveillance. Though governments also have access to less forceful but still insidious tools, such as website blocking and internet filtering, these aim to cut off the flow of information and advocacy at the source.
Another form of censorship gets limited attention, a kind of quiet repression: the travel ban. It’s the Trump travel ban in reverse, where governments exit rather than entry. They do so not merely to punish the banned but to deny the spread of information about the state of repression and corruption in their home countries.
In recent days I have heard from people around the world subject to such bans. Khadija Ismayilova, a journalist in Azerbaijan who has exposed high-level corruption, has suffered for years under fraudulent legal cases brought against her, including time in prison. The government now forbids her to travel. As she put it last year: “Corrupt officials of Azerbaijan, predators of the press and human rights are still allowed in high-level forums in democracies and able to speak about values, which they destroy in their own – our own country.”
Zunar, a well-known cartoonist who has long pilloried the leaders of Malaysia, has been subject to a travel ban since mid-2016, while also facing sedition charges for the content of his sharply dissenting art. While awaiting his preposterous trial, which could leave him with years in prison, he has missed exhibitions, public forums, high-profile talks. As he told me, the ban directly undermines his ability to network, share ideas, and build financial support.
Ismayilova and Zunar are not alone. India has imposed a travel ban against the coordinator of a civil society coalition in Kashmir because of “anti-India activities” which, the government alleges, are meant to cause youth to resort to violent protest. Turkey has aggressively confiscated passports to target journalists, academics, civil servants, and school teachers. China has barred a women’s human rights defender from travelling outside even her town in Tibet.
Bahrain confiscated the passport of one activist who, upon her return from a Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, was accused by officials of “false statements” about Bahrain. The United Arab Emirates has held Ahmed Mansoor, a leading human rights defender and blogger and familiar to those in the UN human rights system, incommunicado for nearly this entire year. The government banned him from travelling for years based on his advocacy for democratic reform.
Few governments, apart from Turkey perhaps, can compete with Egypt on this front. I asked Gamal Eid, subject to a travel ban by Egyptian authorities since February of 2016, how it affects his life and work? Eid, one of the leading human rights defenders in the Middle East and the founder of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), has seen his organisation’s website shut down, public libraries he founded (with human rights award money!) forcibly closed, and his bank accounts frozen.
While Eid is recognised internationally for his commitment to human rights, the government accuses him of raising philanthropic funds for ANHRI “to implement a foreign agenda aimed at inciting public opinion against State institutions and promoting allegations in international forums that freedoms are restricted by the country’s legislative system.” He has been separated from his wife and daughter, who fled Egypt in the face of government threats. The ban forced him to close legal offices in Morocco and Tunisia, where he provided defence to journalists, and he lost his green card to work in the United States. He recognises that his situation does not involve the kind of torture or detention that characterises Egypt’s approach to opposition, but the ban has ruined his ability to make a living and to support human rights not just in Egypt but across the Arab world.
Eid is not alone in his country. He estimates that Egypt has placed approximately 500 of its nationals under a travel ban, about sixteen of whom are human rights activists. One of them is the prominent researcher and activist, Hossam Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, who faces accusations similar to Eid’s.
Travel bans signal weakness, limited confidence in the power of a government’s arguments, perhaps even a public but quiet concession that, “yes indeed, we repress truth in our country”. While not nearly as painful as the physical weapons of censorship, they undermine global knowledge and debate. They exclude activists and journalists from the kind of training that makes their work more rigorous, accurate, and effective. They also interfere in a direct way with every person’s human right to “leave any country, including one’s own,” unless necessary for reasons such as national security or public order.
All governments that care about human rights should not allow the travel ban to continue to be the silent weapon of censorship – and not just for the sake of Khadija, Zunar, and Gamal, but for those who benefit from their critical voices and work. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Mapping Media Freedom” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_separator color=”black”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][vc_icon icon_fontawesome=”fa fa-times-circle” color=”black” background_style=”rounded” size=”xl” align=”right”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]
Since 24 May 2014, Mapping Media Freedom’s team of correspondents and partners have recorded and verified 3,597 violations against journalists and media outlets.
Index campaigns to protect journalists and media freedom. You can help us by submitting reports to Mapping Media Freedom.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_separator color=”black”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Don’t lose your voice. Stay informed.” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_separator color=”black”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship is a nonprofit that campaigns for and defends free expression worldwide. We publish work by censored writers and artists, promote debate, and monitor threats to free speech. We believe that everyone should be free to express themselves without fear of harm or persecution – no matter what their views.
Join our mailing list (or follow us on Twitter or Facebook) and we’ll send you our weekly newsletter about our activities defending free speech. We won’t share your personal information with anyone outside Index.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][gravityform id=”20″ title=”false” description=”false” ajax=”false”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_separator color=”black”][/vc_column][/vc_row]
The anti-terror charges against reporters for Vice News in Turkey are not isolated. In recent years, a number of countries have used broad anti-terror laws to restrict the freedom of the press.
• Turkey releases two Vice News journalists, must free third
Two British journalists and a local fixer working for Vice News were charged on Monday 31 August in Turkey with “working on behalf of a terrorist organisation”. They will remain in detention until their trial, the date of which has not yet been announced.
The journalists Jake Hanrahan, Philip Pendlebury and Iraqi translator and journalist Mohammed Ismael Rasool were filming clashes between security forces and youth members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir on Thursday when they were arrested.
Turkey’s broad definition of terrorism means that any journalist reporting on PKK activities or Kurdish rights can be charged with the offence of making “terrorist propaganda” and jailed.
Index on Censorship Chief Executive Jodie Ginsberg said: “Coming just days after the unjust sentencing of three Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt, these latest detentions of journalists simply for doing their jobs underlines the way in which governments everywhere can use terror legislation to prevent the media from operating.”
Egypt remains a cause for concern when it comes to press freedom: on 29 August 2015 Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed were sentenced to three years in prison. The journalists were found guilty of of “broadcasting false information” and “aiding a terrorist organisation” – a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The sentencing came just weeks after President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government passed an anti-terror law setting a fine of up to 500,000 Egyptian pounds (£41,600) for journalists who stray from government statements or spread “false” reports on attacks or security operations against armed fighters.
Jordan introduced a new “anti-terror” law in 2006 prohibiting, among other things, the engagement in “acts that expose the kingdom to risk of hostile acts, disturb its relations with a foreign state, or expose Jordanians to acts of retaliation against them or their money”. The charge carries a prison sentence of three to 20 years. The law was amended in 2014 to , broaden the definition of terrorism.
Interpretation of the law has been varied. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in April 2015 a journalist was jailed for criticising the Saudi-led bombing of Houthi forces in Yemen. Another journalist was detained in July 2015 for breaking a recent ban on coverage of a terror plot. Earlier in 2015, an activist who criticised the royal family’s support of Charlie Hebdo on Facebook was sentenced to five months in jail under the anti-terror law.
One month after June’s terrorist attack on Sousse beach killing 38 tourists, for which ISIS claimed responsibility, Tunisia approved new anti-terror legislation.
Under the legislation, website editor Nour Edine Mbarki was charged in connection with publishing a photograph of a car that purportedly transported a gunman behind the beach attack. According to the CPJ, he was charged under Article 18 of the law with “complicity in a terrorist attack and facilitating the escape of terrorists,” which carries a prison term of between five and 12 years. He is currently awaiting a trial date.
Human Rights Watch said the new anti-terror bill “would open the way to prosecuting political dissent as terrorism, give judges overly broad powers, and curtail lawyers’ ability to provide an effective defence”.
Rights groups have long criticised Pakistan’s notorious anti-blasphemy laws for their effect on freedom of expression in the country. But strengthened anti terror legislation is also impacting the way journalists operate in the country.
In June, three Pakistani journalists were charged under the Anti-Terrorism Act, reportedly for covering the activities of a dissident politician, according to the Pakistan Press Foundation. A year before, a TV anchor was also charged under the law.
One to watch: Kenya
Following two separate attacks by al-Shabab militants in December, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law a new security bill that could curtail press freedom. Under the new law, journalists could face up to three years in jail if their reports “undermine investigations or security operations relating to terrorism” – or even if they published images of “terror victims” without police permission.
This hasn’t come into play yet – in February, the Kenyan High Court threw out several clauses, including those that could impact media freedom. The government has said it would consider lodging an appeal.
This post was written by Emily Wight for Index on Censorship