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UK ranks alongside Moldova in new free speech index

Photo by Brian Wangenheim on Unsplash

The UK has been ranked alongside Moldova and South Africa in the third “partially open” tier of a new global index of freedom of expression.

The report’s authors, Index on Censorship, blamed the “chilling effect” of government policies, policing and intimidation of journalists in the legal system among the reasons for the UK’s lowly placing.

Virtually every other Western European state ranked ahead of the UK in the measure compiled by advocacy group Index on Censorship.

IOC worked alongside experts in machine learning and journalism from Liverpool John Moores University to compile the index, which covers academic, digital and media freedom based data from sources including Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, and Unesco’s Observatory of Killed Journalists.

Ruth Anderson, Index’s CEO, said: “You might assume we would be with countries like Australia, Ireland and others, who actually have better protections for freedom of expression. It’s a shock, especially in the current environment where people talk a great deal about freedom of expression and use terms like woke.”

The report comes as parliament discusses measures to crack down on peaceful protest, while Conservative chair Nadhim Zahawi has tried to use legal action to silence journalists reporting on his tax affairs. The authors also pointed to the high courts approval of Julian Assange’s extradition to the US.

The ranking also comes a month after Hertfordshire police admitted it unlawfully arrested and violated the human rights of a photographer covering climate protests on the M25, one of four journalists arrested while covering Just Stop Oil protests.

Leeds-based Yorkshire Post publisher National World has also expressed grave concerns about freedom of the press recently, and at the weekend announced it would appoint a dedicated freedom of speech editor.

Globally, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported at least 67 journalists and media workers killed in 2022, nearly double the 2021 figure.

States with the highest ranking (“open”) in the overall measure are clustered around western Europe and Australasia.

The UK joined the US in the “partially open” tier alongside Moldova, Panama, Romania, and South Africa.

The poorest performing European Union states were Poland, Bulgaria and Hungary, which were ranked in a fourth tier of being Partially Narrowed.

The lowest, 10th tier – “closed” – welcomed well-known advocates of free speech including Bahrain, Belarus, Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Laos, Nicaragua, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

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