Freedom of Speech in a Shocking and Steep Decline Worldwide

Today, anybody can go on social media or set up a blog and report on anything they'd like. At least that is what you'd expect.


But no! Governments, political institutions, powerful corporations and organized crime have also increasingly repressed the people's right to voice their opinion and denounce acts of corruption, violence or other human rights violations, various experts told teleSUR on World Freedom of the Press Day.

Indeed freedom of expression has registered a concerning decline globally and as of 2015, it hit its lowest point in 12 years, various human rights organizations agreed, including Article 19 whose experts told teleSUR that in Latin America, Mexico, Honduras and Argentina have taken huge steps backwards in this regard.

“Last year, freedom of the press and of expression hit its lowest point in 12 years in 2015, as political, criminal, and terrorist forces sought to co-opt or silence the media in their broader struggle for power,” Freedom House said in their annual report. A shockingly low 13 percent, or one in seven people in the world actually enjoy a free press, the report adds. “Steep declines worldwide were linked to two factors: heightened partisanship and polarization in a country’s media environment, and the degree of extralegal intimidation and physical violence faced by journalists,” it states.

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The conflict-ridden Middle East is still where problems are most acute in terms of freedom of expression, as governments and militias increasingly pressure journalists and media outlets to take sides, Freedom House says. But there are other ways in which freedom of speech or press are impinged upon, as is the case of the huge media monopolies that are mainly controlled by U.S., European and right-wing companies that manipulate information to rig elections, smear and slander left-wing governments, discredit activists and community, and Indigenous, Black, Hispanic, environmental and other leaders.

“Even in the much more open media environments of Europe, journalists faced unusual levels of pressure from terrorists and, to an extent, their own governments,” Freedom House states. Conclusion: the varied threats journalists and citizen reporters are facing around the world are making it way more difficult for people, especially journalists, to inform the public. And while Syria, a war-torn country since 2011, remains the deadliest place for journalists with 14 killings in 2015, the world saw 135 press workers killed last year. So far this year, 40 journalists have been killed. Also last year, 199 journalists around the globe were thrown in jail for doing their job.

France was the second country with the highest death rate of journalists. In January 2015, eight journalists were killed in an attack against the satirical, and sometimes discriminatory magazine Charlie Hebdo. Places like Turkey, Libya, and Egypt were also in the spotlight due to the high level of media repression. Protests in many countries were also banned in 2015, starting with Argentina and Mexico, but also in Spain, for example. Activists were also on the list of most dangerous professions and while they are not journalists, they certainly do denounce violations of diverse issues, as well as defend the most vulnerable from authoritarian, totalitarian and highly repressive governments, including that of the United States, where many journalist were harassed by police when covering grave police brutality against protesters.

But in light of all the dangers and in face of authoritarian governments, organized crime and extremists, journalists proved to be relentless, refusing to bow to corrupt or violent forces.

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Mexico has always been a dangerous place for journalists, but since Enrique Peña Nieto took office in 2012, things have only gotten worse, said Gabriel Soto and Sandra Patargo, both freedom of expression activists and defenders who currently work for the Mexico chapter of the London-based international organization Article 19, Freedom of Expression. Five Latin American countries have been pointed out as places where the government and other entities continuously harass and even murdered journalists: Mexico, Honduras, Colombia and Argentina, while local authorities, not federal, in Brazil, are also under scrutiny.

“Mexico and Argentina, in particular, are countries whose governments act in a highly deceitful manner, as they spend huge resources to fool international organizations and other countries into believing they're implementing measures to improve security and conditions for activists, human rights defenders, journalists and the population in general, when they're really not,” said Sandra Patargo. Soto and Patargo told teleSUR that in 2015, at least seven journalists were killed in Mexico, while four have already been murdered in 2016.

They also pointed out that 2015 has been the worst year for aggression against journalists, with 397 incidents reported. Soto said that most of the attacks against press workers were perpetrated by government officials. “At least 165 were committed by government officials, while only 35 were carried out by organized crime members and private entities were responsible for the remaining 78,” he said.

Watch: How Dangerous is it to be a Journalist in Latin America?

In Honduras, 59 journalists have been assassinated since a U.S.-backed coup removed President Manuel Zelaya, while 12 were killed in 2015 and four so far this year. About 219 attacks on journalists were reported last year, which has been the most violent year to date in the Central American country, which is most dangerous in the world with just over 90 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. And in Argentina, after years of relative peace for journalists under the governments of Cristina Fernandez and Nestor Kirchner, in about four months President Mauricio Macri has taken huge strides to clamp down on freedom of expression by criminalizing protests and silencing critical media, such as teleSUR.

In Colombia, although the dangers journalists face have been reduced, threats and aggression against them continue to be a serious issue. In 2014, 164 press workers across the country were threatened, persecuted, beaten and forced to keep quiet or even quit their profession. In the last six years, 56 reporters have been killed in the South American nation.

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“Many countries in the region and around the world are sacrificing freedom of expression in the so-callwed name of security, while they also invest huge resources to control and regulate the internet in order to silence criticism that may hurt them in their efforts to hoard more power and perpetuate themselves or their parties in power,” Patargo said. She put the violent southwestern state of Veracruz as an example of both repression against the media as well as the complicity of the federal government in helping them deal with criticism in order to maintain political control of the entity.

Watch: Who Controls the U.S. Media?

And while repression against freedom of speech has intensified globally, Mexico is living the worst in this regards,” said Patargo. “Under Peña Nieto, Mexico is headed toward authoritarianism.” Patargo said it's true that the United States is to blame for many of the problems in Latin America, but it is also fair to say that, as in the case of Mexico, politicians themselves decide they need to take up a subservient posture not only before the U.S., but also the EU, and in order to do so “they resort to violence against the media that dares criticizes them.” So, on World Day of Freedom of Press, one must ask what there is to celebrate if civil liberties around the globe are increasingly being restricted?

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