Jacob Mchangama in Areo:

Pexels-photo-65079It’s a paradox: The ability to communicate, spread and access information freely across borders and barriers has never been more readily available to people around the globe. Yet the belief in freedom of thought and expression as fundamental values underpinning an uber-connected world seems to be eroding. Even in democracies. Whether its American college students protesting (sometimes violently) speakers they disagree with, European democracies panicking about fake news, populism and extremism, or the American president labelling the media an “enemy of the people.” Instead free speech has increasingly come to be viewed as an excuse and a vehicle for racism, bigotry, populism, disinformation and a general threat to social peace, harmony and order. This is backed up by data from Freedom House showing that global respect for press freedom reached a 13-year low in 2016 following constant decline since 2004. The message in Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) 2017 Press Freedom Index is hardly more uplifting:

“violations of the freedom to inform are less and less the prerogative of authoritarian regimes and dictatorships. Once taken for granted, media freedom is proving to be increasingly fragile in democracies as well. In sickening statements, draconian laws, conflicts of interest, and even the use of physical violence, democratic governments are trampling on a freedom that should, in principle, be one of their leading performance indicators.”

Using RSF data from 2016 all but two of 28 democratic European countries experienced declines in press freedom compared to 2013. A 2017 survey on the attitudes of 15-21 year olds in 20 countries around the world found that around half believe people should have the right to non-violent free speech even when it is offensive to a religion (56%) or minority groups (49%). And while 93% of American millennials favour free speech in general, these figures drop to 62% and 57% when it comes to offensive speech regarding religion and minority groups respectively. These figures drop significantly among millennials in other democratic countries such as France and the United Kingdom.

If we take free speech for granted and have become apathetic about its value that would not be the first time in history.

More here.