The latest results from the 2016 World Press Freedom Index, released just two weeks before World Press Freedom Day, reveal a climate of fear and tension, combined with increasing control over newsrooms by governments and private sectors. It also reflects the increasing intensity of attacks on journalistic freedom and independence.
The damning report by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RPF) paints a picture of a ‘deep and disturbing decline’ of media freedom, owing to increasing pressure from ‘governments, ideologies and private-sector interests’.
According to the report, media freedom is threatened everywhere. To back its case, RSF cites increased conflicts of interest, adoption of laws allowing mass surveillance and heightened authoritarianism of state-owned media and sometimes privately-owned outlets.
Seen as a benchmark throughout the world, 180 countries are ranked according to the freedom the press is allowed there. It also includes indicators as the level and intensity of media freedom violations in each region.
According to the index, the North European countries (with 19.8 points) still has the freest media, followed distantly by Africa (36.9), (Namibia being a shining example of press freedom), which for the first time overtook the Americas (37.1). Asia, Eastern Europe/Central Asia and North Africa/Middle East follow with 43.8, 48.4 and 50.8 points respectively.
The European countries heading the rankings are Finland (holding top spot since 2010), Netherlands (second, up two places) and Norway (third, down one place). The countries that rose most in the Index include Tunisia (96th, up 30), thanks to a decline in violence and legal proceedings, and Ukraine (107th, up 22), where the conflict in the east of the country abated.
Meanwhile, Poland (47th, down 29), fell furthest because the ultra-conservative government seized control of the public media, and (much farther down) Tajikistan, plunged 34 places to 150th as a result of the regime’s growing authoritarianism.
The Sultanate of Brunei (155th, down 34) suffered a similar fall because of self-censorship fuelled by the gradual introduction of the Sharia and threats of blasphemy charges. Burundi (156th, down 11) fell because of the violence against journalists resulting from President Pierre Nkurunziza’s contested reelection for a third term. Turkmenistan (178th), North Korea (179th) and Eritrea (180th) remain as the ‘infernal trio’ in the last 3 places.
The Index is based on an evaluation of press freedom that measures cross-culturalism, freedom of the media, the quality of the legal framework and the safety of journalists in 180 countries. To compile the index, a sophisticated and rigorous methodology is used. It is based on scores calculated from a series of indicators both qualitative and quantitative. A questionnaire in 20 languages is completed by media practitioners and experts all over the world and this is combined with numerical data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during the period evaluated.
The global indicator and the regional indicators show that there has been a deep and disturbing decline in respect for media freedom throughout the world. RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said that a climate of fear is being established for journalists who try to properly do their jobs, both by politicians and rich individuals.
“It is unfortunately clear that many of the world’s leaders are developing a form of paranoia about legitimate journalism,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.
Institutional violence caused a further drop in media freedom in Venezuela (139th, down 2) and Ecuador (109th), while organized crime by the mafia has lowered Honduras (137th, down 4), in the index. Corruption, has been the major obstacle in Brazil (104th, down 5), and concentrated media ownership, as in Argentina (54th). In the United States (41st), the main cause seems to be increased cyber-surveillance.
In Mexico (149th, down 1) multiple murders of journalists were linked to corruption and drug trafficking. The region’s biggest fall was by El Salvador (58th), which plunged 13 places.
State controls, intimidation cause the media to struggle in Latin America. In Panama (91st), government control on access to information and defamation charges on coverage of certain sensitive subjects led to its fall of eight places. The region’s two biggest media freedom violators continued to be Venezuela (139th) and Cuba (171st, down 2).
Entering the worlds top ten this year is Costa Rica (6th, up 10), yet again the region’s best for press freedom. Its legislation is very favourable for the media, it accords journalists it’s due and proper recognition and it is the only Central American country not to suffer from corruption. Jamaica (10th, down 1) and Canada (18th) were the region’s other leaders, although Canada fell ten places because media freedom suffered a great deal in the last few months of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s administration.
Meanwhile India figures at an abysmal low of 133 out of 180 nations in this latest press freedom index. An international watchdog, on Wednesday, accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of being ‘indifferent’ to threats against scribes.