3rd Annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index
Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontiÃ¨res) announces its third annual worldwide index of press freedom. Such freedom is threatened most in East Asia (with North Korea at the bottom of the entire list at 167th place, followed by Burma 165th, China 162nd, Vietnam 161st and Laos 153rd) and the Middle East (Saudi Arabia 159th, Iran 158th, Syria 155th, Iraq 148th).
In these countries, an independent media either does not exist or journalists are persecuted and censored on a daily basis. Freedom of information and the safety of journalists are not guaranteed there. Continuing war has made Iraq the most deadly place on earth for journalists in recent years, with 44 killed there since fighting began in March last year.
But there are plenty of other black spots around the world for press freedom. Cuba (in 166th place) is second only to China as the biggest prison for journalists, with 26 in jail (China has 27). Since spring last year, these 26 independent journalists have languished in prison after being given sentences of between 14 and 27 years.
No privately-owned media exist in Turkmenistan (164th) and Eritrea (163rd), whose people can only read, see or listen to government-controlled media dominated by official propaganda.
The greatest press freedom is found in northern Europe (Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Iceland, the Netherlands and Norway), which is a haven of peace for journalists. Of the top 20 countries, only three (New Zealand 9th, Trinidad and Tobago 11th and Canada 18th) are outside Europe.
Other small and often impoverished democracies appear high on the list, such as El Salvador (28th) and Costa Rica (35th) in Central America, along with Cape Verde (38th) and Namibia (42nd) in Africa and Timor-Leste (57th) in Asia.
Reporters Without Borders compiled the index by asking its partner organizations (14 freedom of expression organizations in five continents), its 130 correspondents around the world, as well as journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists, to answer 52 questions to indicate the state of press freedom in 167 countries (others were not included for lack of information).
Too many Asian countries at the bottom of the list
For the third year running, North Korea is bottom of the list. Reporters Without Borders has just published a report of a fact-finding mission that describes how journalism is forced to serve the cult of personality of dictator Kim Jong-il. Dozens of journalists have been “re-educated” for often minor supposed professional “errors.”
At the other extreme is New Zealand, in 9th place, which is the top-listed non-European country. News diversity is respected in this Pacific democracy and the government does not interfere.
At the bottom end is Burma (165th), whose military rulers have banned the privately-owned media from speaking freely and thrown in prison journalists supporting opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The press is also cowed in Vietnam (161st) and Laos (153rd).
China still scores very low (162nd) despite the growth of print and broadcast media, since the ruling Communist Party has used violence to indicate the lines that must not be crossed. The country is the world’s biggest prison for journalists, with the most recent victim a Chinese correspondent for the US daily the New York Times. Despite promises made when Beijing was awarded the 2008 Olympic Games, the locally-based foreign media is still closely monitored.
No let-up in violence:
Violence against the media continues to undermine freedom in many Asian countries. Nepal (160th) and Bangladesh (151st) rate very low due to incessant violence there. The governments are partly to blame but political groups, especially the Maoist rebels in Nepal, as well as organized crime also persecute journalists.
Countries such as the Philippines (111th), India (120th) and Indonesia (117th) figure in the bottom half of the index despite having free and lively independent media, since killings and physical attacks on journalists, along with outdated laws, still prevent a full flowering of the press.
Violence against the media in India rarely comes from the authorities but from political activists and in Kashmir from armed groups. The authorities in the Indonesian province of Aceh and the army in Pakistan’s tribal areas have sealed off these areas to the media. Pakistan (150th) dropped about 20 places because of this and increased army pressure on the local press.
The Maldives (157th) lost ground in this year’s index because of a crackdown on journalists and pro-democracy activists by longtime President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
The situation in Afghanistan (97th) improved markedly however, with growing news diversity and the media daring to tackle sensitive topics. But threats to journalists, especially from provincial warlords, remain very real.
In Japan (42nd), the media is diverse and powerful, but the system of kisha clubs still deprives foreign and freelance journalists of access to a lot of information. In South Korea (48th) and Taiwan (60th), the government is not always tolerant of opposition media.