UNESCO Publishes Latest Report on World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development

November 10, 2017

UNESCO presented the latest report on global trends in freedom of expression and media development on November 6 at its Paris headquarters with the attendance of Marius Dragomir, director of CMDS, who contributed to the panel organized around the key findings of the report. The panel, moderated by Chadia Khedhir, editor-in-chief of cultural news at Watania2, included co-panelist Zoe Titus, strategic coordinator of the Namibia Media Trust and Carlos Lauria, head of free and safe journalism at the Open Society Foundation.

Monroe Price, member of our advisory board was one of the lead researchers of the report and the editorial team also included non-resident CMDS fellow Silvia Chocarro Marcesse, and CMDS director Marius Dragomir as advisors.  

The report focuses on the latest trends in the media landscape, including media freedom, citing the rapid political, technological and economic changes of recent times that have put further pressure on the independence of media. “The rise of new forms of political populism as well as what have been seen as authoritarian policies are important developments”, emphasizes the report, adding that “governments are increasingly monitoring and also requiring the take down of information online, in many cases not only relating to hate speech and content seen to encourage violent extremism, but also what has been seen as legitimate political positioning”.

Copyright: UNESCO

Regarding media pluralism, the report found that while access to a plurality of media platforms has continued to expand, it has also led to a so-called “polarized pluralism” with echo chambers or filter bubbles “that are seen to reinforce individuals’ existing views and produce increasingly siloed debates”. The report highlights that “pluralism continues to be limited by the ongoing fact that women remain heavily underrepresented in the media workforce, in decision-making roles, and in media content, both as sources and subjects.”

The multi-faceted phenomena of “polarization” led to a strong need for independent, verifiable journalism. The report confirms that the decline in media independence is reflected in several indicators and pressure on journalists comes in various disguises: the “complex interconnections between political power and regulatory authorities, attempts to influence or delegitimize media and journalists, and shrinking budgets in news organizations.” In addition, there is also decreasing public trust in news media. The report emphasizes that “disruptions in business models have been seen as contributing to increasing dependence on government and corporate subsidies in some circumstances, and thereby raising concerns about potential impacts on editorial independence. In some cases, there has been an increase in highly antagonistic criticism, including from leaders, about media and the practice of journalism.”

As for the safety of journalists, “there has also been a substantial rise in other forms of violence against journalists, including in kidnapping, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention and torture. The Arab region has seen a sharp rise in journalists taken hostage by violent extremist groups.” The report highlights that 530 journalists were killed between 2012 and 2016, which amounts to an average of two deaths per week. In addition, digital safety also poses a growing danger for journalists all across the world, including “threats posed by intimidation and harassment, disinformation and smear campaigns, website defacement and technical attacks, as well as arbitrary surveillance. Women journalists, in particular, have experienced increasing online abuse, stalking and harassment.”