Growing constraints on press freedom and independent information flows could be signalling an oncoming decline in peace.
The global rate of free and independent information exchange is declining, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP).
A 2018 analysis of Positive Peace around the world showed that IEP’s measure for the Free Flow of Information dropped by 0.4 per cent each year from 2013 to 2017, an about-face from the previous seven-year period that saw yearly growth of 0.7 per cent.
Decreasing freedom of the press, media pluralism and independence are driving the decline in the global rate, stark findings that are in contrast to a rising level of mobile phone subscription take-up.
In countries like Rwanda, which rose 36 places in its Positive Peace ranking last year, alleged control of the media and other limits on freedom of speech are holding the country’s progress back, with journalists leaving because of political pressure and the self-censorship of media outlets.
In 2018, restrictions on press freedom in countries such as Greece and Hungary led to a deterioration in Free Flow of Information across Europe.
IEP’s findings are consistent with broader analysis showing that increasing attacks on the media are reflecting a world where the strongman leadership style is on the rise and democracies are losing their reputation as relative safe havens of free speech.
Constraints on press freedom are a precursor to substantial falls in peace, IEP research shows.
Analysis of a decade of Positive Peace trends show that 17 out of the 20 countries with the largest falls in peace had deteriorating scores on the World Press Freedom Index and 14 deteriorated in the Freedom of the Press Index.
Free Flow of Information is one of the eight pillars of Positive Peace, as measured in the 2018 Positive Peace Index. Positive Peace, as defined by IEP, is the attitudes, institutions, and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies.
The term peace is widely understood as a condition or environment without violence, or the fear of violence, but Positive Peace has been identified by IEP as the underlying condition that creates the optimum environment for human potential to flourish.
Based on the analysis of thousands of cross-country measures, IEP has determined the factors that have statistically significant relationships with actual peace as measured in IEP’s Global Peace Index.
Free and independent media disseminates information in a way that leads to greater knowledge and helps individuals, business and civil society make better decisions, which leads to better outcomes and more rational responses in times of crisis.
The Free Flow of Information pillar measures the degree to which citizens can easily access and exchange information while being free from restrictions or censorship.
It considers the economic, legal and political context that journalists operate within, informal constraints such as self-censorship as well as diversity of content. Mobile phone subscription rates account for how much of the population has basic access to information.
The three regions of Russia and Eurasia, South Asia, and Asia-Pacific had the largest improvements, at 5.8%, 4.8% and 4.3% respectively.
Meanwhile, North America is notably lagging behind the rest of the world, with deteriorating levels of Acceptance of the Rights of Others, Equitable Distribution of Resources and Free Flow of Information.
Download and read IEP’s latest research on the global levels of Positive Peace in 2018.