‘Drastic decline’ in press freedom across the globe

Reporters Without Borders

Information wars in conflict zones, reprisals against journalists by terrorist groups like the Islamic State and censorship on religious grounds contributed to a “drastic decline” in press freedom in 2014, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has warned.


According to the Paris-based watchdog’s latest World Press Freedom Index, published Thursday, two-thirds of the 180 countries surveyed performed less well than in 2013, while there was an 8 percent increase in the number of violations of freedom of information in 2014 compared to the year before.

“Beset by wars, the growing threat from non-state operatives, violence during demonstrations and the economic crisis, media freedom is in retreat on all five continents,” said RSF.

Conflicts in places like Ukraine, Syria and Iraq had a big impact on press freedom, it said, with all parties waging a “fearsome information war”.

“The media, used for propaganda purposes or starved of information, became strategic targets and were attacked, or even silenced,” it said.

Non-state actors such as the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria and Boko Haram in Nigeria, as well as criminal organisations such as Latin American drug traffickers and the Italian mafia, have also sought to repress media freedom, it said.

“[M]otives may vary but their modus operandi is the same – the use of fear and reprisals to silence journalists and bloggers who dare to investigate them or refuse to act as their mouthpieces.”

While the index does not take into account the recent attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, in apparent revenge for publishing cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed, RSF also highlighted the threat of censorship on religious grounds to press freedom.

“The criminalisation of blasphemy endangers freedom of information in around half of the world’s countries,” it said, adding that religious extremists “sometimes take it upon themselves to remind journalists and bloggers what they may or may not say”.

Information ‘black holes’

RSF put Eritrea and North Korea at the bottom of the index in 180th and 179th place respectively, the same spots they had occupied in 2014. China, Iran and Syria were also ranked among the worst countries for press freedom.

The watchdog’s head, Christophe Deloire, highlighted the Middle East and North Africa as regions where freedom of the press is most repressed.

“Black holes are preventing the spread of information across these regions. This is particularly the case in Syria, Iraq and Libya,” he said.

Top of the table was Finland, as it has been for the past five years, followed by two other northern European countries in Norway and Denmark.

However, press freedom in Europe as a whole also suffered in 2014. Italy fell 24 places to 73rd, partly as a result of threats to journalists from the mafia, while Iceland dropped 13 places down to 21st as it “paid the price of worsening relations between politicians and media”.

And while France saw its position increase one spot to 38th, RSF warned that “journalists were often the targets of violence during demonstrations in France in 2014, while the level of conflicts of interest in the media was high”.

The United States ranked 49, three spots lower than in the previous report, in part because of what RSF said was the US government's "war on information" against WikiLeaks and others.

In South America, Venezuela stood out with a 20-notch fall to a ranking of 137 due to the National Bolivarian Guard opening fire on clearly identified journalists during demonstrations.

Libya dropped 17 places to 154 because of the national chaos that has seen seven journalists murdered and 37 kidnapped.

Russia slipped to the 152nd spot after introducing "another string of draconian laws," website blocking and the extinction of independent media.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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