New way of measuring freedom of expression launched

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By Staff on December 07, 2017


Crowds of people march peacefully August 19, 2017 in downtown Boston protesting against a “Free Speech” rally featuring extremist racist and anti-semitic speakers. Photo courtesy of Telesur.

ARTICLE 19 has joined with the social science database V-Dem to launch a tool for assessing freedom of expression and information worldwide.

For a number of years, WACC has been exploring the concept of a Communication Rights Index, which would compare a wide range of accredited global and local indices to rank nations.

From 2011 to 2013, WACC and two of its long-time partners in Bolivia carried out a project whose purpose was to gain better access to social services including health, education, housing, and employment. The project also initiated a communication rights index.

Now, ARTICLE 19 and the collaborative network V-Dem have developed a range of indicators to measure freedom of expression in 172 countries. V-Dem have also used historic data to identify the major free speech trends of the last ten years.

ARTICLE 19’s Executive Director, Thomas Hughes, said, “The XpA Metric is a tool for understanding where governments are succeeding and failing in their duty to promote and protect our rights. We hope that it will help journalists, activists and policymakers to monitor free speech, challenge the threats to it and hold governments and companies to account.”

“But it also offers us a positive guide for how freedom of expression and information can be realised so that we can all participate in public life, enjoy a private life, and exercise our right to free speech,” he added.

Key findings:

  • Global media freedom is at its lowest level for ten years. In 2016 alone, 259 journalists were imprisoned worldwide, and 79 were killed.
  • Internet censorship has become more pervasive since 2006 (the year that Twitter was launched, and Facebook and YouTube were still in their infancy). Algorithms are increasingly used to remove legal and illegal content with little transparency over the process or consideration of human rights.
  • Much of the world’s online content is now regulated by the community standards of a handful of internet companies, whose processes lack transparency and are not subject to the checks and balances of traditional governance.
  • Private communications are being surveilled as never before, as states, including the UK, pass legislation to enable extensive digital surveillance.
  • Governments are using unprecedented legal and other measures to silence dissenting voices and protest by individuals and civil society organisations. These tactics include labelling NGOs as ‘foreign agents’ and the illegal surveillance of NGOs and journalists.
  • The call for greater transparency is one of the most significant positive shifts over the past decades, with right to information laws now in 119 countries.

In its own rationale for a Communication Rights Index, WACC noted that in the short term a communication rights index tool would contribute to data generation, analysis and mobilization for local and national advocacy for, and debate about, changes in policy and practice pertaining to communication in the local and national public spheres.

It would also generate knowledge about local and national communication deficits, and provide evidence for national policy debate on the state of communication rights.

ARTICLE 19 and V-Dem’s initiative is a significant step in this direction. The full report on the XpA metric can be found here.

By Staff| December 07, 2017

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