Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, which “defends imprisoned journalists and press freedom throughout the world, as well as the right to inform the public and to be informed, in accordance with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” has put out their annual ranking of worlwide press freedom. Autocratic regimes in East Asia (North Korea, Burma, China, Vietnam and Laos) and the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria and Iraq) bring up the rear as usual:
- Reporters Without Borders 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).
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 organisations (14 freedom of expression organisations 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).
Jailings, murders and threats
Cuba is last but one (166th place) from bottom of the list and once again the worst violator of press freedom in Latin America. All criticism of President Fidel Castro’s rule is officially a crime. Twenty-six journalists arrested in March last year along with some 50 dissidents are still in prison. The conditional release of two of them was only a faint glimmer of hope since the regime maintained its tight monopoly of all news.
Colombia enjoys a very diverse media but journalists pay for it with their life and two have been murdered in the past year. This was slightly fewer than in 2003 and moved the country up from 147th to 134th place. But working conditions for the media have not really changed. Exposing the abuses of paramilitary and leftist guerrilla forces, as well as corruption of politicians, is still more dangerous than anywhere else in the hemisphere.
Haiti dropped from 100th to 125th place because of increased attacks and threats by supporters of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in the months before his fall. The situation has since improved, but journalists in the provinces still have to deal with the ex-soldiers who forced Aristide out and prefer to censor themselves.
Fragile and violent democracies
Mexico (96th place), Peru (123rd) and to some extent Brazil (66th) have mixed press freedom, with a largely confident national press and a provincial one facing serious problems, including journalists being murdered by gangsters or local politicians. Nicaragua fell from 34th to 52nd place because of the killing of journalist Carlos Guadamuz. Argentina (79th) saw no journalists murdered but those in the provinces were threatened, harassed by police and courts and blackmailed by withdrawal of local government advertising.
Bombings, physical attacks and threats to journalists and media hostile to President Hugo Chávez were fewer than last year in Venezuela but remained frequent and partly explain the country’s low place (90th) on the list. However tension has eased a little since Chávez won a 15 August referendum confirming him in office.
The two North American giants score well
A police raid in Canada on the home of journalist Juliet O’Neil and the national regulatory authority’s stand against the pan-Arab radio station Al-Jazeera and the local station CHOI FM downgraded the country to 18th place. Violations of the privacy of sources, persistent problems in granting press visas and the arrest of several journalists during anti-Bush demonstrations kept the United States (22nd) away from the top of the list.
The groups methodology is this:
- The index measures the state of press freedom in the world. It reflects the degree of freedom journalists and news organisations enjoy in each country, and the efforts made by the state to respect and ensure respect for this freedom.
It is based solely on events between 1 September 2003 and 1 September 2004. It does not look at human rights violations in general, just press freedom violations.
Reporters Without Borders compiled a questionnaire with 52 criteria for assessing the state of press freedom in each country. It includes every kind of violation directly affecting journalists (such as murders, imprisonment, physical attacks and threats) and news media (censorship, confiscation of issues, searches and harassment).
It registers the degree of impunity enjoyed by those responsible for such violations. It also takes account of the legal situation affecting the news media (such as penalties for press offences, the existence of a state monopoly in certain areas and the existence of a regulatory body) and the behaviour of the authorities towards the state-owned news media and the foreign press. It also takes account of the main obstacles to the free flow of information on the Internet.
We have taken account not only of abuses attributable to the state, but also those by armed militias, clandestine organisations or pressure groups that can pose a real threat to press freedom.
The questionnaire was sent to partner organisations of Reporters Without Borders (14 freedom of expression groups in five continents) and its 130 correspondents around the world, as well as to journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists. A scale devised by the organisation was then used to give a country-score to each questionnaire. The Statistics Institute of the University of Paris provided assistance and advice in processing the data reliably and thoroughly.
The 167 countries ranked are those for which we received completed questionnaires from a number of independent sources. Others were not included because of a lack of credible data. Where countries tied, they are listed in alphabetical order.
The index should in no way be taken as an indication of the quality of the press in the countries concerned.
Another reporter was killed in Iraq yesterday:
- Reporters Without Borders today condemned the fatal shooting yesterday in Baghdad of Iraqi TV journalist Liqaa Abdul-Razzaq in what “once again bears the hallmarks of an execution.” An interpreter and the driver of the taxi she was travelling in were also killed in the same shooting, while a woman friend was wounded.
“We are outraged by what appears to have been a targeted killing designed to intimidate the entire press and we call on the authorities to carry out a rapid and thorough investigation to identify those responsible and prevent this kind of tragedy continuing,” the organisation said.
It also reiterated the principle that “journalists are neutral observers whose work must be protected and respected in order to ensure that news reporting is as free and thorough as possible.”
Abdul-Razzak was travelling in the taxi with her friend and the interpreter when it was fired on by unidentified gunmen. Abdel-Razak, the interpreter and the taxi-driver all died on the spot. The injured friend was rushed to hospital but quickly left for fear of being followed there and killed.
….Iraq continues to be one of the most dangerous places in the world for the news media. At least 30 journalists and 15 other media workers have been killed there since the start of the war in March 2003. The number of journalists and media workers killed since the start of 2004 is 30, of whom 24 were Iraqis.
Another blow for freedom by the “insurgency.”