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Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-10-20

A 'freedom index' compiled by press watchdog Reporters Without Borders has condemned the usual dictatorships, but also criticised some emerging powers and established democracies such as France, which placed 44th.

AFP - The new "freedom index" from press watchdog Reporters Without Borders slams the usual dictatorships, but also warns that economic growth in emerging powers does not always lead to more liberty.

As expected, the pressure group's annual league table of media freedom condemns authoritarian regimes -- such as Eritrea, North Korea and Turkmenistan -- that employ the most brutal methods to silence the free press.

But it also warns that the impressive economic progress made in recent years by major powers such as China, India and Russia has not been matched by any greater openness to criticism on the part of their governments.

And it hits out at several European Union countries, former leaders in freedom of expression, who are quick to criticise others but who now find themselves slipping in the rankings as authorities chip away at media rights.

Reporters with Borders (RSF) praises Brazil for making progress in changing its laws to better guarantee free expression -- moving it up 12 places to the 58th best place to be a journalist -- but hits out at India, Russia and China.

"These four countries now shoulder the responsibilities of the emerging powers and must fulfil their obligations as regards fundamental rights," the group's secretary general, Jean-François Julliard, said in a statement.

"More than ever before, we see that economic development, institutional reform and respect for fundamental rights do not necessarily go hand in hand."

China was criticised for censoring and jailing dissidents, writers and bloggers, and drops to 171st place out of 178 countries surveyed.

RSF praised the Nobel committee for giving its 2010 Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, "symbol of the pressure for free speech building up in China, which censorship for the time being is still managing to contain."

France and Italy, at 44th and 49th, were hit for prying into "journalists' sources, the continuing concentration of media ownership and contempt and impatience on the part of government officials towards journalists."

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi owns the country's big private broadcaster and several publications, and has been accused of putting political pressure on state and independent media.

In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy is accused of ordering secret police to hunt out the source of leaks to the press about a high-profile fraud probe, and his wealthy friends in industry own much of the daily press.

"It is disturbing to see several European Union member countries continuing to fall in the index," Julliard said.

"If it does not pull itself together, the European Union risks losing its position as world leader in respect for human rights... how could it be convincing when it asks authoritarian regimes to make improvements?"

Nevertheless, the top six countries in joint first place in the world for press freedom are still in northern Europe, and three of them in the European Union: Finland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.

"These six countries set an example in the way they respect journalists and news media and protect them from judicial abuse," RSF said.

RSF compiles its annual table by scoring each country in the light of 43 criteria measuring violence and persecution against journalists, censorship and self-censorship and the financial and legal independence of media.

Date created : 2010-10-20