Freedom of the press

AI and freedom of the press

While AI might improve journalistic standards, make information more accessible, and empower independent voices, it can also threaten media freedom.

Unleashing the power of AI for press freedom

AI technologies significantly impact journalism by helping journalists effectively manage and analyse large volumes of data. They provide data organisation and search tools, enabling journalists to access information more efficiently. AI-powered search engines facilitate comprehensive research, supporting investigative journalism. AI assists in swift data analysis, revealing hidden patterns and trends that might have been missed otherwise. This enhances news coverage and investigative reporting. AI also aids in fact-checking and verifying information by analysing content against reliable sources. Speech recognition and translation technologies simplify transcription, allowing journalists to include diverse voices and perspectives. 

Unveiling AI’s influence on press freedom

AI poses risks to journalism and media due to its potential to spread misinformation and biassed news. Social media bots and algorithms can disseminate fake news, eroding trust in journalism. Biassed AI algorithms can lead to one-sided news recommendations, limiting exposure to diverse perspectives. Deepfakes, generated by AI, can deceive people and manipulate public opinion, undermining media credibility. AI’s data processing capabilities raise privacy concerns, potentially compromising the privacy of journalists and sources. This can lead to self-censorship and hinder press freedom. Furthermore, AI automation may result in job losses for media professionals as AI takes over research, fact-checking, composition, and other traditionally human tasks.

Learn more on AI Governance.


In the information age, communication often acts as a catalyst for the development of civil society. The invention of mechanised printing in the 15th century enabled faster and widespread proliferation of ideas via books, newspapers, and other publications. ‘Press Freedom’ came as a reaction to the political and religious authorities’ attempts to suppress ideas that could potentially challenge their existing power structures, therefore deemed as subversive. Today, free media is seen as a crucial player in building consensus and sharing information, both of which are essential to democratic decision-making and social development.

The Freedom of the Press Act, the Swedish legislation passed in 1766, is recognised as the world’s first law supporting the freedom of the press and freedom of information. This Act, practically, eliminated the government’s role as a censor, allowing official government activities to become a public matter. The law proclaimed that citizens should be able to express and disseminate information without fear of reprisal.

The basic human right of freedom of expression enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights also upholds press freedom as its corollary. The fundamental right to seek and share information is enabled by independent press, including printed and electronic media. The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), created in 1945, promotes freedom of expression and freedom of the press as a basic human right.

Freedom of the press is often viewed solely as the freedom of journalists to report and comment. This narrow view fails to acknowledge its strong correlation with the public’s right to access knowledge and information, as well. The latest edition of the World Press Freedom Index, compiled annually by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), notes that the environment for journalism is satisfactory in only 30% of countries. The reasons for that include increased aggressiveness on the part of the authorities in many countries and growing animosity towards journalists on social media and in the physical world.

Intergovernmental organisations, as well as many non-governmental organisations, have as some of their core tasks the promotion, protection, and engagement in human rights activities. The organisations such as UNESCO, the Council of Europe (CoE), the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), among others, are strongly involved in monitoring and protecting the freedom of the media.

As per its mandate, UNESCO works with media organisations and governments all over the world to protect journalists and act as an agent of press freedom in developed and developing countries.UNESCO reported to the Intergovernmental Council of the International Program for the Development of Communication (IPDC) that 117 journalists and media workers were killed worldwide in 2020 and 2021, which represents a lower number in comparison to the previous two years, registering 156 killings. The COVID-19 pandemic is considered to be one of the reasons for the decrease. However, there has been an increase in the number of women journalists killed to 11% of total killings in 2021, possibly due to online gender-based attacks spilling over into offline violence. Impunity for crimes committed against journalists has decreased by 3% since 2018, and the global impunity rate was measured at 86% in 2022. 

The UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted Resolution A/RES/76/173 on ‘The safety of journalists and the issue of impunity’ at its 76th session in December 2021, which addresses various challenges journalists face during the pandemic. In July 2021, the Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted Resolution A/HRC/47/L.22 on ‘The promotion, protection, and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet.’ In October 2021, the HRC adopted Resolution A/HRC/RES/48/4 on ‘The right to privacy in the digital age,’ which focuses both on protecting journalists from online attacks and surveillance.

The right to freedom of expression and freedom of the media, as protected by Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, is considered as the pillar of democratic security in Europe by the Council of Europe (CoE). The CoE provides legal guarantees for the independence and diversity of the media and the safety of journalists and other media actors. One of its initiatives in the field is the Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists, which compiles information which may serve as a basis for dialogue with member states about possible protective or remedial action. In 2022, the Council of Europe adopted new ‘soft law’ guidelines to combat hate speech online, promote fair media coverage of election campaigns, and create a favourable environment for quality journalism. Ensuring freedom of expression online and offline was identified as the second overall strategic priority, and the Committee of Ministers has adopted new guidelines to help achieve this goal. However, the report also emphasises the need for continued vigilance and action to safeguard press freedom and protect journalists throughout the region.

The OSCE has a mandate to protect, promote, and monitor media freedom and its developments in its participating states. Their field of operations includes, but is not limited to, monitoring the work of media regulators; fostering transparency, credibility, and independence of media; monitoring freedom of the media; documenting cases of media rights violations; holding public discussions; supporting independent media outlets.

The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media (RFoM) is actively observing and publicly reacting to cases of violations and attacks on media freedom and journalists. One of the recent cases is the verdict of the Minsk City Court, which sentenced editor-in-chief Maryna Zolatava and director general Ludmila Chekina of TUT.BY, to 12 years in prison, which was condemned by RFoM, Ms Teresa Ribeiro. 

The IFEX is a civil society organisation with observer status with the Council of Europe’s Steering Committee on Media and Information Society (CDMSI) and has participatory status with the CoE. It works on defending and promoting freedom of expression as a fundamental right for all, including media, citizen journalists, activists, artists, and scholars. They are actively monitoring and reporting on cases from around the world which affect free expression, media, and freedom of information.

Several other independent press freedom advocates like Reporters Without Borders, Committee to Protect Journalists – on a global level, and Press Councils or Press freedom associations – on a national level, work to uphold the freedom of the press.