Despite the opportunities afforded by online platforms, there is evidence that freedom of expression and particularly freedom of the press has not been improving across the globe, and that often this is a reflection of state policies. Reporters Without Borders said its most recent World Press Freedom Index is a “reflection of the attitudes and intentions of governments towards media freedom in the medium or long term”. A UNESCO report released last month found that progress on press freedom has lost momentum citing particularly the “rise of new challenges such as internet censorship and the use of national security and anti-terrorism laws”.  This week’s media policy meme has become a dominant symbol for free speech in silent protests around the world.

Supporting press freedom. Photo by mobiledisco CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

While many different types of protestors have used the tactic of putting tape over their mouths, the use of black tape is specifically associated with journalists worldwide in support of freedom of the press. One example that has attracted a lot of attention is the recent imprisonment of Al-Jazeera journalists in Egypt on terrorism-related charges stemming from an interview with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood sparked an international outcry.

In February 2014, Al Jazeera called for a Global Day of Action to support the release of the journalists who were jailed in Egypt for months without trial. Members of the press and others in 40 locations around the world staged vigils for the cause, many of them wearing the signature black tape. On 24 June 2014, in London, BBC staffers were joined by colleagues from across the media in protest of the continued detainment of these journalists.

The notion of journalistic freedom has become a complicated policy issue in light of government surveillance, media ownership concentration, and a variety of  issues under the umbrella of Internet governance. Still, in many parts of the world governments are still using national security as a justification to stifle journalists.

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