Freedom of speech and press declines worldwide; Support for censorship rises in the youngest generation

Image: Washington Post cover screen grab

World Press Freedom Day passed this week. May 3 was the 30th anniversary of the first World Press Freedom Day. But the Washington Post says “there seems little to celebrate,” because there are more government limits on the press worldwide in many countries than there were 30 years ago.

But why should journalists expect freedom to express their opinions when ordinary people increasingly lack free speech? Reports on civil liberties such as the Human Freedom Index show a   long‐​term decline of global freedom of expression. After being relatively constant from 2001 to 2006, the global average of freedom of expression fell rapidly from 2006 to 2020.

The decline of free speech has been called a global free speech recession by free speech scholars such as Jacob Mchangama. The decline is broad-based and has occurred in both rich and poor countries (including those with longstanding democratic institutions) and in every region on Earth.

Public opposition to free speech has also risen, and hostility to free speech in the West is greatest among Generation Z. The belief that free speech is harmful to marginalized peoples has proliferated, as Mchangama and Greg Lukianoff have pointed out.

As Professor Eric Kaufmann notes, “The steady erosion of free speech values is generational. Today’s young people are far more censorious than those of 1980 or even 2000, and they won’t grow out of it. While Zoomers are scared of being cancelled, they accept this risk as part of their political ideology.” Over half of 18-25-year-olds say that “My fear of losing my job or reputation due to something I said or posted online is a justified price to pay to protect historically disadvantaged groups. “Surveys consistently find that ‘woke’ values are twice as prevalent among younger Leftists than among older Leftists. Young academics are twice as censorious as those over 50. These are the editorial teams and professoriate of tomorrow.”

Moreover, leading members of Generation Z support punishing people for expressing common viewpoints. Over 8 in 10 undergraduates at 150 leading US colleges say speakers who say BLM is a hate group or transgenderism is a mental disorder should not be permitted to speak on campus. What’s more, 7 in 10 think a professor who says something that students find offensive should be reported to their university.”

So it comes as no surprise that press freedom, too, has been on a generation‐​long decline around the world that continues. The number of journalists imprisoned hit a record last year according to the Committee to Protect Journalists and in its annual survey, Reporters Without Borders concludes that “the environment for journalism is ‘bad’ in seven out of ten countries, and satisfactory in only three out of ten.”

LU Staff

LU Staff

Promoting and defending liberty, as defined by the nation’s founders, requires both facts and philosophical thought, transcending all elements of our culture, from partisan politics to social issues, the workings of government, and entertainment and off-duty interests. Liberty Unyielding is committed to bringing together voices that will fuel the flame of liberty, with a dialogue that is lively and informative.


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