Government (and overlapping business) interests and attacks can affect media diversity and plurality, media content and media viability in multiple ways. This can happen through political control and abuse of the regulatory framework (i.a. via control of state advertising), through concentration of ownership in combination with partisan interests or access control. Other means that effectively have a chilling effect on journalism are use of or allowing hate speech and stoking populist sentiments against the media or abusing the legal system with frivolous lawsuits. Active persecution of critical journalists takes place through surveillance, unwarranted charges and arrests of media workers and even leaving crimes against journalists go unpunished, resulting in impunity for the perpetrators. More recently, under the guise of public health and safety measures that restrict access to information and media content, Covid-19 has brought further concerns about governmental and political control of the enabling environment for the media.
There are several actors and initiatives that monitor and or rank the space for freedom of expression and media freedom (as well as local watchdog organisations), next to more broader methodologies such as UNESCO’s Media Development Indicators, Deutsche Welle’s Media Viability Indicators and IREX’ Media Sustainability Index (see Analysing the enabling environment).
More information on the space for freedom of expression media freedom in relation to Journalist Safety can be found on the Introduction to Safety page of this website. There too you can find information on the World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders the Global Impunity Index of the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Civicus Monitor.
Disinformation is a serious threat to news trust and hence to media viability. In the words of the EU: ‘[d]isinformation erodes trust in institutions and in digital and traditional media and harms our democracies by hampering the ability of citizens to take informed decisions. It can polarise debates, create or deepen tensions in society and undermine electoral systems, and have a wider impact on […] security’. More on disinformation can be found on the Media fostering accountability pages.
World Press Freedom Index
Each year, Reporters without Borders publishes the World Press Freedom Index, a ranking of countries on their degree of freedom available to journalists, based on a qualitative analysis that is combined with quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists. While the analysis focuses on categories similar to those of UNESCO, Deutsche Welle or IREX, the analysis is very much advocacy-oriented and the index is presented as an advocacy tool. Countries are scored on 7 indicators: Pluralism, Media Independence, Environment and self-censorship, Legislative framework, Transparency, Infrastructure, Abuses.
Media Ownership Monitor
The Media Ownership Monitor, also developed by Reporters Without Borders, consists of a methodology based on data collection and fieldwork and existing media ownership and media pluralism research. The monitor aims to create media ownership transparency in 21 countries across five continents. Data collection covers 5 sections: Context; Media Market; Ownership; and Indicators. The indicators take inspiration from the Media Pluralism Monitor.
World Justice Project and the Rule of Law Index
The World Justice Project is an NGO that works on increasing understanding of the rule of law, adherence to it by governments and promoting home-grown cultures of the rule of law. The WJP acknowledges the role of journalism in relation to the rule of law through its annual WJP Anthony Lewis Prize for Exceptional Rule of Law Journalism. According to the WJP website:
‘[v]igorous reporting and a free, open press play a vital role in preserving the rule of law by holding the powerful to account and protecting the public’s right to know. This has never been more true than today, with authoritarianism on the rise worldwide, growing instances of media harassment and capture, and a global pandemic triggering—or simply giving cover to—increasing press restrictions and crackdowns.’
The WJP Rule of Law Index is a data source on the rule of law covering 128 countries and jurisdictions. The index measures countries’ rule of law performance across eight factors: 1. Constraints on Government Powers, 2. Absence of Corruption, 3. Open Government, 4. Fundamental Rights, 5. Order Security, 6. Regulatory Enforcement, 7. Civil Justice, and 8. Criminal Justice. A number of indicators, are relevant for or specifically about freedom of expression and media freedom (1.5, 4.2 and 4.4 specifically mention the media):
- 1.4 Government officials are sanctioned for misconduct
- 1.5 Government powers are subject to non-governmental checks
- 3.2 Right to information
- 3.3 Civic participation
- 4.2 The right to life and security of the person is effectively guaranteed
- 4.4 Freedom of opinion and expression is effectively guaranteed
- 6.2 Government regulations are applied and enforced without improper influence
UNESCO: World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development
In 2014 and 2018, UNESCO published the World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development, an analysis in five languages of the trends in media freedom, pluralism, independence and the safety of journalists, with a special focus on gender equality in the media. Next to a full report, six regional overviews have been published of the Trends report. Alongside the trend reports, UNESCO publishes the thematic In Focus Series. The trends covered are:
- Media Freedom
- Media Pluralism
- Media Independence
- Safety of Journalists
UNESCO: DG Report on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity
Published bi-annually, the DG report includes the responses received from concerned Member States about judicial follow up to the killings of journalists. The Director-General’s request to Member States for information on judicial follow up is sent out on an annual basis. The status of judicial inquiries presented in the Report is based on the information provided on a voluntary basis by the Member States. Next to the report, UNESCO maintains the UNESCO observatory of killed journalists, a searchable database containing all UNESCO-registered cases of killed journalists.
Getting Away with Murder
The Committee to Protect Journalists keeps track of the number of murder cases considered unsolved with complete impunity for the suspected perpetrators in the Impunity Index. These cases are published annually on the 2nd of November to mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists on November 2. CPJ also publishes data on Journalists Imprisoned. The database is searchable with filters such us charge (e.g. defamation, false news, censorship violation), coverage, medium, gender and other filters.
CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists that works on strengthening citizen action and empowering a more effective and accountable civil society, and defending civic freedom and democratic values through emergency support and tracking civic space trends. Through the CIVICUS Monitor, it actively monitors and reports on attacks on media workers. According to CIVICUS, ‘[a] free and independent media is a key ally of civil society in the quest for sustainable development, social justice and human rights. Attacks on the media usually go hand-in-hand with attacks on civil society, and are a barometer of the levels of injustice, corruption and authoritarianism in any society.‘
Media Pluralism Monitor
The Media Pluralism Monitor (MPM), developed by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom of the European University Institute, documents the health of media ecosystems, detailing threats to media pluralism and freedom in European Union member states and some candidate countries. The 2020 findings ‘show a general stagnation or deterioration of media pluralism and media freedom’ on the four monitoring areas of the MPM: Basic protection; Market plurality; Political independence; and, Social inclusiveness.
Results from the 2017 report i.a. showed that:
- ‘Media ownership concentration remains one of the most significant risks to media pluralism and is seen as creating barriers to diversity of information and viewpoints.
- News organisations continue to be vulnerable to political interference, especially when economic conditions are unstable.
- A lack of political independence of public service media, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, remains a matter of concern’.
See also the interactive map of the MPM.