Reporters Without Borders: Is World Press Freedom Under Attack?

Reporter without Borders has been supporting and defending press freedom and independent journalism for over 30 years. According to the organisation's latest report, the repression of journalists is on the rise throughout the world. And it's not just freedom of the press that is under threat.

Author Laura Wagener:

Translation Laura Wagener, 05.08.17

Article 19 of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, first set out in 1948, states the following:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

The same concept quite rightly found its way into numerous national constitutions throughout the world. Freedom of expression and access to impartial information is of course fundamental to any democracy.

And information can only be collected and disseminated among the population when a country’s media is allowed to investigate and report in a rigorous, impartial and unpartisan way. Reporters Without Borders – or Reporters Sans Frontières has been working to defend and promote journalists’ right to free and independent reporting and documenting violations of freedom of the press since 1985. The NGO’s latest report on the freedom of the press in 180 countries around the world is a cause for concern: journalists’ freedom to research and report seems to be coming increasingly under threat. In just under two thirds of the countries that were analysed, the situation has deteriorated in the past year.

World Press Freedom: Oppression on the Rise Worldwide

“It’s particularly alarming that democratic countries too are being increasingly placing restrictions on independent media outlets and journalists, rather than upholding press freedom as a fundamental right,” said Michael Rediske, chair of the board of Reporters Without Borders in Germany. Journalists regularly come under attack from politicians, while democractically elected governments have passed laws that strengthen the surveillance powers of the intelligence services and put whistle blowers at risk.

The United Kingdom, for example, has slipped two places on the World Press Freedom Index, thanks to the introduction of what is deemed to be “the most extreme surveillance legislation in UK history”, as well the lack of  protections in place for whistleblowers and journalists, which poses a threat investigative journalism. A new ‘Espionage Act’ – if passed – would also make it easier for journalists to be classified as spies and receive lengthy jail terms.

President Trump’s declaration that the press is an “enemy of the American people”, combined with the Obama administration’s war on whistleblowers and travel bans for journalists who reported on sensitive topics, means that the US has, unsurprisingly, also slipped a couple of places in the rankings.

Front Runners, New Hope and Age Old Problems

Out in front are the usual exemplary Scandinavian countries – in first second and third place are Sweden, Norway and Denmark respectively. The most dangerous place to be a journalist is North Korea (in 180th place), where the media is completely controlled by the dictatorial regime and any attempt at oppositional media coverage is severely punished. Eritrea, Turkmenistan and Syria join the East Asian country at the bottom of the list.

The situation in Turkey (at number 155) has, in comparison to last year, worsened once again. Media pluralism is by now largely a thing of the past. Since the attempted coup in July 2016, around 150 journalists have been arrested, 150 media outlets closed and hundreds of press passes cancelled. In the past twelve years, Turkey has fallen 57 places in the ranking. The country that showed the biggest improvement was Italy. Despite the threat posed by organised crime, the country was able to climb 25 places to number 52.

The website features an interactive map with detailed information about the ranking of each of the 180 countries analysed, and you can click through to fascinating profiles on each individual country.

About the World Press Freedom Index

The 2017 World Press Freedom Index compares the level of freedom available for journalists and media outlets in 180 countries around the world, based on evidence collected throughout 2016. The index is compiled based on qualitative data collected via an online questionnaire that covers all aspects of independent journalism, as well as quantitive data collected on the numbers of attacks, abuses and prison terms faced by journalists throughout the world.

This is translated into a score for each country, and the results are comparative, meaning that their place in the list is determined by comparing them to how other countries did. That means that a country can actually improve its position on the list from one year to the next, although their overall score has actually got down.

This article is a translation by Marisa Pettit of the original article which appeared on RESET’s German-language site.

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