People's Stories Freedom

Media freedom, Civil Society Space declining around the world
by Article 19, CIVICUS Monitor
Nov. 2017
New ARTICLE 19 metric measures global threats to freedom of expression and information
Freedom of expression organisation, ARTICLE 19 has joined with the social science database V-Dem to launch a unique, authoritative assessment of freedom of expression and information worldwide. The Expression Agenda (XpA) metric uses a range of indicators to measure freedom of expression in 172 countries. V-Dem have also used historic data to identify the major free speech trends of the last ten years.
Key findings
Global media freedom is at its lowest level for ten years. In 2016 alone, 259 journalists were imprisoned worldwide, and 79 were killed.
Internet censorship has become more pervasive since 2006. Algorithms are increasingly used to remove legal and illegal content with little transparency over the process or consideration of human rights.
Much of the world’s online content is now regulated by the community standards of a handful of internet companies, whose processes lack transparency and are not subject to the checks and balances of traditional governance.
Private communications are being surveilled as never before, as states, including the UK, pass legislation to enable extensive digital surveillance.
Governments are using unprecedented legal and other measures to silence dissenting voices and protest by individuals and civil society organisations. These tactics include labelling NGOs as ‘foreign agents’ and the illegal surveillance of NGOs and journalists.
The call for greater transparency is one of the most significant positive shifts over the past decades, with right to information laws now in 119 countries.
Executive Director Thomas Hughes said:
“For the first time, we have a comprehensive and holistic overview of the state of free of expression and information around the world. Unfortunately, our findings show that freedom of expression is under attack in democracies as well as authoritarian regimes.
“The XpA Metric is a tool for understanding where governments are succeeding and failing in their duty to promote and protect our rights. We hope that it will help journalists, activists and policymakers to monitor free speech, challenge the threats to it and hold governments and companies to account.
“But it also offers us a positive guide for how freedom of expression and information can be realised so that we can all participate in public life, enjoy a private life, and exercise our right to free speech.”
Global media freedom at lowest level for a decade 17 years
One of the most serious findings of the Expression Agenda (XpA) is that global media freedom is at its lowest level for a decade.
The rise of citizen journalists, bloggers and information activists has put more individuals and groups at risk than ever before. The threats they face include state repression, organised crime, business interests and religious fundamentalism. There has been an alarming rise in attacks on journalists, human rights defenders and activists who seek to expose corruption and abuse.
A decline of media pluralism has been accompanied by a parallel decline in democratic freedoms. Brazil, Turkey, Burundi, Egypt, Poland, Venezuela and Bangladesh have seen particularly disturbing drops in a diverse and independent media.
Shift in advertising revenues towards the internet has radically altered traditional media companies. Redundancies, cutbacks and the decline in salaried journalists are contributing to concerns about the future of accurate and reliable journalism in the 21st century. The control of information is increasingly in the hands of a few companies with search engines and algorithms now responsible for delivering news and information to digital audiences, and especially those using social media platforms.
Oct. 2017
People Power Under Attack. (CIVICUS)
CIVICUS Monitor Ratings Update October 2017
Updated ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor, provide further evidence that the space for civil society - civic space - continues to close around the world. The findings show that this phenomenon extends to a wide range of countries - from established democracies like Belgium and the Netherlands, to economic powerhouse China and conflict ridden Yemen.
The report outlines how civic space ratings worsened in eight countries, improved in two and remained unchanged in 185 countries. These changes are based on a review of quantitative and qualitative data on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression undertaken between July and September 2017.
Some highlights:
108 countries are now in the CIVICUS Monitor’s ‘obstructed’, ‘repressed’ and ‘closed’ categories, an increase of two from April 2017, which indicate serious restrictions of civic space.
Just 22 countries now occupy the ‘open’ category, down from 26 in April. This means that just 2% of the world’s population live in a country with ‘open’ civic space. This analysis also shows that more than three billion people live in countries with serious to extreme restrictions on fundamental civic freedoms.
Only 13 of 28 European Union (EU) member states now have ‘open’ civic space, an uncomfortable statistic for the leaders of a union founded on the values of democracy and human rights.
Journalists are especially vulnerable to violations of their civic freedoms, between June 2016 and September 2017, the CIVICUS Monitor published a total of 184 reports involving attacks of one kind or another on journalists.

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Protect Net Neutrality and Internet Freedom
by Free Press, World Wide Web Foundation, agencies
21 Nov. 2017
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plans to give Internet providers power to choose the internet sites customers see and use. (Washington Post, agencies)
The Federal Communications Commission took aim at a signature Obama-era regulation Tuesday, unveiling a plan that would give Internet providers broad powers to determine what websites and online services their customers see and use.
Under the agency’s proposal, providers of high-speed Internet services, such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T, would be able to block websites they do not like and charge Web companies for speedier delivery of their content.
The FCC’s effort would roll back its net neutrality regulation which was passed in 2015 and attempted to make sure all Web content, whether from big or small companies, would be treated equally by Internet providers.
Ajit Pai, who was nominated to head the FCC by Trump in January, has said undoing the net neutrality rules was one of his top priorities.
Pai’s remarks were cheered by conservatives as well as cable, broadband and wireless companies, which provide most of the Internet service to American homes, smartphones and other devices.
Pai’s announcement set off a firestorm of criticism from Internet companies and activists who vowed to hold demonstrations ahead of the FCC''s vote.
The Free Press Action Fund and other net neutrality activist groups said they would organize protests outside Verizon stores and accused Pai of doing the company’s bidding. Pai served as an associate general counsel at Verizon for two years beginning in 2001.
Former Democratic FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, who drafted the 2015 net neutrality rules, called Tuesday’s move “tragic”. “The job of the FCC is to represent the consumer,” he said in an interview. “Tragically, this decision is only for the benefit of the largely monopoly services that deliver the Internet to the consumer.”
Relying on the public promises of Internet providers is a departure from current net neutrality rules, which lay out clear bans against selectively blocking or slowing websites, as well as speeding up websites that agree to pay the providers a fee.
FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn says at the most basic level, net neutrality is the principle that "all data and all legal traffic that travels over the internet should be treated equally". "This has been a bipartisan bedrock principle for more than a decade, and its extremely popular among the public."
''Pai''s plan would do away with net neutrality, it eliminates all prohibitions against blocking and throttling (slowing down) applications by broadband providers, and enables them to engage in paid prioritization and unreasonable discrimination at the point of interconnection. It ignores thousands of consumer complaints and millions of individual comments that ask the FCC to save net neutrality and uphold the principles that all traffic should be created equal."
Nov. 2017
Protect Net Neutrality and Internet Freedom, by Tim Berners-Lee. (World Wide Web Foundation)
How do you use the World Wide Web? People use it for all kinds of different things: to read email, post an update on social media, check in to a work meeting, navigate to a destination, enjoy a favorite song or album. It’s your choice.
When I invented the World Wide Web as an information sharing system in 1989, I aimed to create a neutral space where everyone could create, share, debate, innovate, learn and dream. That’s why I gave my invention away for free, so that anyone, anywhere could access and build on it without permission. My vision was an online space that would give people freedom — and America’s entrepreneurial, optimistic spirit embraced it with enthusiasm.
In the early days, there was a wonderful spirit of empowerment of individuals. I could read any blog I liked, and I could write my own blog with links pointing to my favorite things. Anyone could put their small business online.
Now that vision is threatened. That choice you have to use the Web for whatever you want could be taken away.
Today, one of the greatest threats to the Web in America is the plan by the Federal Communications Commission to roll back America’s open Internet safeguards. Net neutrality is the fundamental principle that all content should be treated equally online. It’s what ensures those millions of local businesses can compete on an equal footing with corporate giants. It’s what stops Internet and cable providers from slowing down services for those who don’t pay a premium, or blocking content that doesn’t boost their own bottom lines.
Why should this matter to you? Most Americans — 87% — use the Internet for everything from accessing information to earning money to watching their favorite shows and movies. About 6 million American students take college courses online. And American entrepreneurs depend on the Web to expand their businesses: By 2018, 92% of small businesses plan to have their own website. Without strong net neutrality safeguards, Internet and cable providers will have the power to control which services you access and how.
This week, I was in Washington telling America’s regulators and lawmakers the story of the Web’s invention, and explaining how dismantling net neutrality will result in fewer choices for consumers. But I need to ask you — the American public — to join me in making sure the United States retains its position as a leader of the free and open Internet.
Please help. If you believe a small group of companies should not control what you can access online, if you want your small business to be given a level online playing field, if you want the freedom to surf the Web freely with the same rights and privileges as others — call your congressional representatives today to urge them to stop the FCC from overturning net neutrality.
Tell members of Congress that American voters deserve the free, open, neutral Internet that we need to support democracy. Let them know that the Web is for everyone, and that we stand together, ready to fight for it.
If you live in the US, call your congressional representative and urge them to protect net neutrality.
* Tim Berners-Lee is the inventor of the World Wide Web and a director of the World Wide Web Foundation, published by USA Today.
June 2017
On July 12, 2017, a diverse coalition of interested parties including the ACLU, Amazon, Etsy, Mozilla, Kickstarter, and many others will come together to sound the alarm about the Federal Communications Commission’s attack on net neutrality.
A free and open internet is vital for our democracy and for our daily lives. But the FCC is considering a proposal that threatens net neutrality — and therefore the internet as we know it.
Former Verizon lawyer and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai wants to reverse hard-won protections that cover millions of internet users’ access to a free and open web. Several years ago the ACLU helped win those network neutrality protections. Now, unfortunately, we need to fight the battle again. We’re ready.
“Network neutrality” is based on a simple premise: that the company that provides your Internet connection can''t interfere with how you communicate over that connection. An Internet carrier’s job is to deliver data from its origin to its destination — not to block, slow down, or de-prioritize information because they don''t like its content.
If the government abdicates its oversight responsibility, internet service providers like Time Warner, AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon could arbitrarily privilege some content and assign painfully slow connections to other. In other words, giant internet companies would have the power to prioritize what we read, watch, and explore online.
The internet service providers’ history of attempting to do such things is already well established. Before the FCC began enforcing net neutrality rules, Verizon Wireless in 2007 decided that text messages from pro-abortion-rights group NARAL to its supporters were too “controversial,” so it cut off access to the group’s text messaging program. AT&T limited users from exchanging data created using Apple’s FaceTime video-calling app. A Canadian internet service provider cut off access to the web site of a union it was battling over working conditions.
Pai’s plan opens the way for these kinds of games, and much more. It would likely mean the creation of pay-to-play data “fast lanes” for those who can afford it — and slower connections for everyone else. This could give these mega-corporations the role of gatekeepers over the information we consume every day. And they would work to squeeze profits out of that gatekeeper role every way they can.
Who would lose? Independent news outlets, start-up businesses, small blogs and other publishers, grassroots activist groups — and everyone else who uses the internet.
This would be devastating to civil rights organizations and activists, who can’t afford to pay corporations to make their voices heard. The internet has been a vital tool for scrappy campaigns and movements, but they may not have enough resources to survive in Chairman Pai’s pay-to-play model.
But on July 12th, the internet will come together to stop them. Organizations like the ACLU, Fight for the Future, Center for Media Justice, Free Press, Demand Progress, and so many others will stand tall and sound the alarm about the FCC’s attack on net neutrality.
We can’t let the FCC get away with this. In 2015, millions raised their voices to demand net neutrality protections and won. We can win again, and we must. The future of a free and open internet — and our fundamental freedoms — are at stake.
Learn more about the July 12 day of action here:
* Access the Free Press via the link below for the latest news.

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