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.”

Index on Censorship condemns lawsuit against journalist and author Oliver Bullough

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship is extremely concerned at the lawsuit that has been filed against author and journalist Oliver Bullough (right). Bullough is being sued in Portugal by the vice president of Angola for €525,000 in relation to his award-winning non-fiction book, Moneyland.

The complaint relates to questions Bullough raised in his book about how Angola’s Vice President Bornito de Sousa Baltazar Diogo could have afforded to spend USD $200,000 on custom-made bridal wear for his daughter. De Sousa claimed that he paid for the dresses on his public servant’s salary, after the shopping spree was featured on the US reality TV show “Say Yes to the Dress”.

“We need investigative journalism to hold power to account. How can journalists be expected do this if they are being subject to aggressive legal claims in plaintiff-friendly jurisdictions?” said Jessica Ní Mhainín, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Index on Censorship. “Bullough is being sued for more than half a million Euro in a jurisdiction he has never before set foot in, for publishing information that is clearly in the public interest.”

Bullough’s Portuguese publisher, 20/20 Editora, is named as the second defendant in the lawsuit. Separately, de Sousa is suing Portuguese anti-corruption activist Paulo de Morais, co-founder of the Portuguese chapter of Transparency International, who recounted the purchases on Portuguese television.

Index on Censorship has filed a Council of Europe media freedom alert.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

The free speech Euros: Group F


A protester with a pride flag confronts the Hungarian national team before their Euro 2020 match with Germany. Jvºrgen Fromme/DPA/PA Images

In celebration of one of football’s biggest international tournaments, here is Index’s guide to the free speech Euros. Who comes out on top as the nation with the worst record on free speech?

It’s simple, the worst is ranked first.

We round up the last of the groups today with Group F, which played the deciding matches on Wednesday.

1st Hungary

The recent Group F fixture between Germany and Hungary drew attention to Hungary’s poor record on free speech and censorship, when a protester carrying a pride flag ran on to the pitch. Hungary’s recent law, passed in June 2021, bans “the depiction or promotion of homosexuality to those under 18”. This includes teaching in schools and portrayals on television.

Prime Minister Victor Orbán was elected in 2010 and changed the constitution to take control of independent government institutions and initiated government policies to limit operations of opposition groups, journalists, and universities. According to non-profit Freedom House, the judiciary is unstable and controlled by the Prime Minister’s office, making it unusable in the struggle for free speech in Hungary. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) credit these policies for inspiring other European countries including Poland and Slovenia to institute similar restrictions on journalists.

Hungary’s coronavirus legislation gave the government almost unlimited power to handle the pandemic, a crisis which solidified Hungary as an information police-state where the prime minister can rule by decree without parliamentary oversight. Anti-scaremongering policies, meant to stop anyone “blocking the government’s anti-pandemic effort,” were used by Orbán to intimidate government critics and also temporarily suspended data protection policies. This fits with other incidents of government officials using their authority to suppress stories for their convenience.

Journalists who are caught conducting routine drone investigations in properties without express permission could get up to three years in prison under section 422 of the Hungarian criminal code, which focusses specifically on “illicit” data collection. Two journalists, Gabriella Horn and Balázs Gulyás, were threatened with this when investigating why military vehicles were present on land owned by businessman and friend of Orbán, Lőrinc Mészáros. It is a policy that shows the extent the government will go to, to side with government officials and oligarchs over journalists.

In May, journalist Júlia Halász appealed criminal charges of defamation and illegal recording for her publications after reporting on the harassment she endured while covering Hungarian diplomat, László Szabó.

Many journalists from the media company Magyar Hang reported government officials and their supporters harassing them for opposing Orbán’s reelection in 2018, and since the pandemic legislation, the head of the company, Csaba Lukács told the Committee to Protect Journalists, “reporting has become increasingly dangerous. This new legislation is a clear threat.”

In addition to government oppression, media publications face economic barriers in Hungary. Hungary’s government media council’s decisions have been criticised for being politicised because they prevented the consolidation of independent media companies while encouraging pro-government media outlets. Hungary’s largest independent newspaper closed in 2016, and the government oversaw the merger of hundreds of small media outlets in a major blow to Hungary’s media diversity.

2nd France

France may have placed at the top of the group on Wednesday, but their free speech record is mediocre. Generally, France has an independent judiciary, fair and free elections, and free and independent media that protect free speech rights in France.

In recent years, political turmoil has given France a bad record of violence against journalists. RSF described it as an overall “hostile environment for reporters.” Anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim demonstrations in France have been increasingly violent, and while covering them, journalists are often arbitrarily detained with their equipment seized or subjected to teargas grenades, flashbangs, and baton beating. At least two journalists in 2020 were called before French police and claimed to have experienced harassment under questioning. Policies implemented in 2010 make it possible for the government to claim “overriding public interest” to force journalists to break source confidentiality.

Journalists are targets of police violence during the recent large-scale protests over France’s “Global Security Law”, which makes it illegal to “maliciously share”  images that may lead to the identification of a police officer. The police response to the Gilets Jaunes – or “Yellow Vests” – movement has been widely criticised for putting bystanders and journalists in harm’s way.

Journalists were the target of the worst terrorist attacks in France. Nine Journalists were killed in 2015 during the Charlie Hebdo shooting which was an attack on the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo. The gunmen identified themselves as members of the Islamist group, Al-Qaeda, and five years later, a second stabbing attack outside Charlie Hebdo is also suspect to have an Islamist terrorist motive.

In April of 2021, French Journalist Nadiya Lazzouni received a death threat with sexist and anti-Muslim slurs and proof that the sender had been watching her. She filed a complaint with the Paris prosecutor’s office but has not heard anything in response as of 15 April. For some journalists in France, both extremists and the police can be a threat to their safety.

3rd Germany

An active effort with constitutional safeguards to avoid repeating the country’s past has made Germany a stable democracy with well-protected civil liberties and political rights. Recent challenges with immigration have given a new rise to right-wing extremism and has created a more volatile environment for journalists. RSF’s 2021 report on Germany states “an independent judiciary ensures a favourable environment for journalists in Germany.” In recent years, the judiciary has been vital in preventing government policies that are harmful to journalists.

Despite the balanced government structure, Germany can still be a dangerous place for journalists. Extremists, mostly from the far right with some leftists, often use journalists as targets for violent attacks, and, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, some politicians encouraged distrust in media outlets to promote populist agendas. In July of 2021, demonstrators protesting the Covid-19 lockdown physically blocked reporter’s cameras with their fists and shoved journalists while threatening them not to report on their protests. In May of 2021, Pro-Palestine demonstrators threw rocks and firecrackers at news crews in Berlin, and police used excessive force to prevent journalists from covering controversial evictions in October of 2020.

The Network Enforcement Act, a controversial law enacted in 2018, was brought in to regulate online hate speech and led to media companies deleting posts that would not have been considered hate speech. A majority of Germans, according to Freedom House, stated they are careful what they post online for fear of repercussions as a result.

Several government policies in response to extremism have been criticised for having unfair restrictions on journalism. In May of June 2021, their federal court ruled a law that was used to force journalists to reveal their sources was unconstitutional. Most recently in June 2021, a new law increased government surveillance and hacking power while removing judicial oversight and protections for Journalists during terrorism investigations, sparking concerns around protecting journalist sources from government retaliation.

4th Portugal

Portugal has a long history of restricting press freedom, but following the Portuguese Constitution guaranteeing freedom of expression in 1978, it has grown to be ranked ninth-best in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index of 2021. Despite a vocal minority that criticises the extent to which freedom of expression is allowed, Portugal now has a decent free speech record, but journalists are hindered by the economic downturn’s effect on their media industry. With a near-perfect score from Freedom House, Portugal earned a 96/100 for its effective political system and balanced judiciary Portuguese media outlets struggled with funding during the pandemic, and in response, Prime Minister António Costa advanced what the state planned to pay in government advertising to support the industry. Generally, public broadcasters have and struggle against commercial television outlets, which gives diverse viewpoints but some risk of populism.

Wrongful surveillance of journalists by police has been an issue. In January 2021, police were allegedly surveilling journalists illegally, without a court order, attempting to uncover their sources, and the Lisbon prosecutor’s office was exposed using electronic surveillance on two journalists in an attempt to reveal their sources in 2018. If charged for “breaching judicial secrets”, the two journalists could face up to two years in prison.

Another challenge Portugal has been facing is recent corruption scandals. In September of 2020, 17 people, including three judges, were charged with corruption. Portuguese authorities, complying with the international effort identified those involved and froze their assets, but some concerns remain around the poor resources provided to investigators and the ineffective anti-corruption and whistleblower protection legislation passed in 2019.

Other groups

Group A

Group B

Group C

Group D

Group E[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”You may also like to read” category_id=”8996″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Appeal on EU leaders before 6th South EU Summit to be held in Malta

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”107234″ img_size=”full”][vc_column_text]EU leaders from Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain are urged to address the ongoing impunity in the case of assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia

To: Mr Emmanuel Macron, President of France; Mr Giuseppe Conte, Prime Minister of Italy; Mr Nicos Anastasiades, President of Cyprus; Mr Alexis Tsipras, Prime Minister of Greece; Mr António Costa, Prime Minister of Portugal; and Mr Pedro Sánchez, Prime Minister of Spain.


13 June 2019

Your excellencies,

Journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated in Malta by a car bomb on 16 October 2017. There is no process inquiring into the circumstances of the murder. We, the undersigned organisations, have advocated extensively for justice in the case and are closely monitoring the process on the ground.

A report on the assassination, titled “Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination and the rule of law, in Malta and beyond: ensuring that the whole truth emerges”, by the Special Rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Pieter Omtzigt, was adopted by the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee meeting in Paris on 29 May 2019.

The report highlights a series of concerns relating to the investigation into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, and Malta is requested to establish an independent and impartial public inquiry within three months to determine whether the state could have prevented the assassination – a call we have made repeatedly. The Committee noted fundamental weaknesses in Malta’s system of democratic checks and balances, seriously undermining the rule of law. This is an alarming situation, particularly in a Council of Europe and European Union member state. The Maltese authorities are called upon to take steps to end the prevailing climate of impunity.

So far, the Maltese government has blocked a public inquiry, leaving journalists continuing to work in Malta at great risk and forcing Galizia’s family to litigate the Prime Minister’s refusal to hold a public inquiry into the assassination. Only a public inquiry can determine how best to guarantee the safety of journalists and prevent future attacks. The Venice Commission Opinion on Malta states Malta’s positive obligations in relation to the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. A public inquiry is the only process that can effectively address these positive obligations. The call for a public inquiry is supported by a resolution by the European Parliament which requests the Maltese government to launch a public inquiry, and calls on the EU institutions and the Member States to initiate an independent international public inquiry into the murder and the alleged cases of corruption, financial crimes, money laundering, fraud and tax evasion reported by the journalist.

By signing the Sibiu Declaration, you have pledged to safeguard Europe’s democratic values and the rule of law. We therefore urge you to address the matter of safety of journalists and ongoing impunity in the case of Daphne Caruana Galizia in your meeting with Prime Minister Muscat in Valletta on 14 June.

Thank you for your attention.

Kind regards,

Dr Lutz Kinkel, Managing Director, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

Sarah Clarke, Head of Europe and Central Asia, ARTICLE 19

Annie Game, Executive Director, IFEX

Joy Hyvarinen, Head of Advocacy, Index on Censorship

Ravi R. Prasad, Director of Advocacy, International Press Institute (IPI)

Carles Torner, Executive Director, PEN International

Rebecca Vincent, UK Bureau Director, Reporters Without Borders (RSF)[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1560437482746-8cffafe9-48c7-1″ taxonomies=”8996″][/vc_column][/vc_row]