Sunday, October 25, 2009



Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released its latest press freedom index on 20 October, showing how European countries, Israel and Iran have all slid in the rankings. The index ranks the degree of press freedom throughout the world as well as efforts made by governments to protect journalists' rights.

Although the first 13 places are held by European countries, many have
fallen in the index: "It is disturbing to see European democracies such as
France, Italy and Slovakia fall steadily in the rankings year after year,"
RSF said. "Europe should be setting an example as regards civil liberties.
How can you condemn human rights violations abroad if you do not behave
irreproachably at home? The Obama effect, which has enabled the United
States to recover 16 places in the index, is not enough to reassure us."

The United States now ranks at 20 because President Barack Obama is "less hawkish" than his predecessor, says RSF. However, the U.S. also has an additional ranking at 108 specifically for its extraterritorial actions. Both the U.S. and Israel have rankings for their actions outside their own countries.

Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip has affected its ranking as it dropped 47 places to 93, falling behind several other countries in the region. Journalists have been illegally arrested and imprisoned. Israel received a second ranking at 150 for its extraterritorial actions. Around 20 journalists were injured by the Israeli military forces in the Gaza Strip and three were killed while covering the conflict.

The main threat in Europe comes from new legislation that compromises the work of journalists, says RSF. In Slovakia (44) the culture minister wields great influence over publications. In the Western world, Canada also dropped a few spots to 19.

Scandinavia comes out on top. Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Norway and Sweden
share first place as the five freest countries for the media.

In Iran, automatic prior censorship, state surveillance of journalists,
mistreatment, illegal arrests and imprisonment has now brought its ranking
close to the worst cluster of states for press freedom. It ranks 172,
followed by Turkmenistan (173), North Korea (174) and Eritrea (175). Burma
remains at the bottom, right behind Iran at 171. Laos, China and Vietnam
round out the cluster of Asian countries in the bottom ten.

In Sri Lanka (162), the state sentenced a journalist to 20 years in prison
while other journalists under threat are forced to flee the country, says
RSF. Pakistan came in at 159, "crippled" by murders of journalists caught
between the military and the insurgency. It shared a record with Somalia
for the world record of journalists killed during the RSF review period.

In Yemen (167) journalists continue to "pay for the government's
scorched-earth policies towards any form of separatism." A similar downward
trend has occurred in Syria (165). In Africa, violence takes the worst toll
in countries like Somalia (164) and Democratic Republic of Congo (146).

And in the Americas, Venezuela (124) is now among the region's worst press
freedom offenders, dropping down close to Colombia (126) and Mexico (tied
with Gambia at 137). Honduras comes in at 128 after the recent coup d'├ętat.
Cuba, where RSF says "where press freedom is non-existent," holds a spot in
the bottom ten.

The index is drawn from a questionnaire completed by hundreds of
journalists and media experts around the world. Countries are given a
ranking and score based on press freedom violations from September 2008
through August 2009. It takes into consideration physical assault,
imprisonment and murder of journalists, as well as censorship, confiscation
of newspapers, harassment and the degree of impunity enjoyed by those
responsible for press freedom violations. It includes the measure of
self-censorship and the ability of media to investigate and challenge those
in power, among many more criteria.

More on the web:
- Press Freedom Index 2009 (RSF):