Freedom of the press: journalists and audiencesMedia freedom (or lack thereof) is a growing cause for concern in countries all around the world, and a survey asking journalists about their experiences of or opinions on press freedom revealed that over 40 percent of journalists worldwide believed that press freedom is deteriorating in their country or the country they report on. The same study found that more than 45 percent of respondents expected press freedom to decrease over the next three years.
This is bad news not only for those working in the sector but also for audiences. News consumers worldwide are already at risk of consuming and unintentionally disseminating false information, and many live under authoritarian governments which limit media freedom and censor news content.
Press freedom around the worldThe situation is particularly poor in Latin America and Africa, with the press freedom score in Latin America and the Caribbean under 50 in a total of 11 countries and under 30 in Cuba. The country with the worst press freedom score in Africa was Eritrea with 19.62, the lowest in the world with the exception of North Korea.
The issue of government intervention became more prevalent during the coronavirus pandemic, including bans on publishing COVID-19 content dubbed as misinformation. Such bans were sometimes used as a way for higher powers to spread disinformation in order to preserve a government’s reputation or reapportion blame elsewhere. Government officials and leaders in countries such as Russia and China tightened their already strict press censorship rules, and journalists in India continued to face backlash and restrictions.
Spotlight on IndiaEven before the pandemic, India was one of the most dangerous parts of the world to work as a journalist, and between 2016 and 2021 the number of journalists killed in India exceeded the figures recorded for Somalia, Iraq, and Colombia, among others. Some sources attribute the decline in India’s press freedom to the gradual disintegration of the country’s democratic structure, and a survey on news audiences in India found that the majority of respondents were concerned about expressing political views online in case openly doing so could get them into trouble with the authorities.
Whilst such concerns may be unrelatable to news audiences enjoying greater media freedom, the reality is that in many countries around the world, journalists and media workers face considerable risks as a result of their job. The decline is press freedom affects readers, too, and this trend is evident not only in countries experiencing conflict or unrest, but also in Western Europe.