Mass job lay offs in journalism are impacting press freedom in the UK, according to the updated World Press Freedom Index, published today (3 May 2024) by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

The index is the world's most authoritative source of information on press freedom, evaluating the conditions for independent journalism in 180 countries worldwide.

A country's score is calculated through five different indicators: political, economic, social and legal contexts, and safety. Each gets a score out of 100, which provides the global score and ranking.

The UK has risen three places, from 26th to 23rd place, owing to the movement of countries around it. However, its overall score is lower, notably because of worsening economic conditions for journalists.

Mass layoffs have plagued the UK news industry in the last 12 months, causing the economic context to slip from 'satisfactory' to 'problematic'. However, the overall situation is stable, according to the report.

Fiona O'Brien, Reporters Without Borders

"This has been a tough year for the industry in the UK, with mass redundancies at major employers and a number of smaller or regional platforms forced to close. Such extensive cuts, combined with a challenging economic climate more broadly, have a clear impact on the ability of newsrooms to continue providing a quality service, as well as on the well-being of the journalists involved," says Fiona O'Brien, UK bureau director, RSF in an email to Journalism.co.uk.

The chilling effect of abusive lawsuits aimed at silencing investigative reporting, transnational attacks on exiled journalists, shocking allegations of police surveillance of journalists in Northern Ireland, and rising online harassment have all marked the UK press freedom landscape this year. 

O'Brien says that threats to journalists, both online and offline, are only likely to increase in the polarised and politically charged climate of an upcoming general election. She calls on a "robust and coordinated response" from government, law enforcement agencies and social media platforms.

This echoes the findings of the report on a global level, which finds that governments around the world are failing to protect journalism. Of the five indicators used to compile the ranking, the political indicator has fallen the most, registering a global average fall of 7.6 points.

Non-profit The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) is no stranger to SLAPPs (strategic lawsuits against public participation) designed to intimidate and silence journalism.

Reflecting on the UK's press freedom situation, Rozina Breen, a former BBC senior editor and head of news, and current editor-in-chief of TBIJ says journalism globally faces unprecedented attacks on its work, quite literally in some geographies.

Rozina Breen, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

"Our work is more urgent than ever and the climate we are in - the weaponisation of journalism by those in power, more polarisation and fracture, a loss of trust in public institutions, the economic downturn affecting our industry, the exhaustion post-pandemic - ever more challenging.

"We at TBIJ, like many other newsrooms in the UK and around the world, are committed to delivering deep and courageous independent, public interest journalism - we are determined that our work supports a just, transparent and democratic society. We also support our colleagues around the world including and especially those involved in reporting the Gaza-Isreal conflict - defending our right to the truth is the core of democracy itself."

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