By Josh Friedman
Reporters Without Borders has released its annual index ranking countries worldwide on press freedom. According to the latests index, the North Korean press has less freedom than any other country’s media.
Supreme leader Kim Jong-un’s regime keeps its citizens in a state of ignorance with the Korean Central News Agency being the sole source of official news both in print and broadcast media, according to Reporters Without Borders. North Koreans fear being sent to a concentration camp for listening to radio broadcasts from outside the country, a report accompanying the index states.
As is often the case, Nordic countries dominate the top of the press freedom index, occupying the first four slots. In the 2017 index, Norway is No. 1, followed by Sweden (2), Finland (3), Denmark (4) and The Netherlands (5). Norway and Finland traded places in this year’s rankings. In 2016, Finland ranked first while Norway ranked third.
Finland sat atop the rankings for five consecutive years, but it slipped after Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila reportedly pressured Finland’s public broadcaster to alter its coverage of a possible conflict of interest case involving him.
Sweden moved up six spots to reach No. 2. New Zealand (13) fell eight slots in the 2017 index, falling out of the top 5 as well as the top 10.
China (176), Syria (177), Turkmenistan (178), Eritrea (179) and North Korea (180) make up the bottom 5 of the rankings. North Korea and Eritrea traded places in the new rankings.
Eritrea moved up from the dead bottom of the rankings for the first time in a decade after allowing a few foreign media crews into the country to produce reports, albeit under close escort.
Italy made the largest leap of any country in the 2017 rankings, climbing 25 places to No. 52. The jump was largely attributed to the acquittal of two journalists in the Vatileaks trial, a case pertaining to leaked documents exposing alleged corruption in Vatican City. Journalists in Italy are continuing to face pressure from organized crime, but press freedom campaigns in the country are growing, according to Reporters Without Borders.
Nicaragua, which fell 17 spots to No. 92, suffered the biggest decline in the rankings over the last year. Journalists in Nicaragua endure death threats and arbitrary arrests and are often physically attacked when covering demonstrations, the index states. Nicaragua’s decline in the rankings coincided with the reelection of President Daniel Ortega last November.
Turkey (155), which made international headlines in 2016 over the number of journalists, as well as other professionals, jailed in a post coup-attempt crackdown, only fell four slots in the rankings. But Turkey has fallen 57 places over the last 12 years.
Other notable countries include France (39), the United Kingdom (40), the United States (43) and Russia (148).
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald responded to the release of the rankings by accusing the United States and United Kingdom of hypocrisy, since the two countries’ governments often criticize other nations over restricting press freedom.
“US and UK, which love to lecture, are behind Estonia, Slovakia, Namibia, Latvia and Chile,” Greenwald tweeted.
European countries claimed 15 of the top 20 slots in the 2017 rankings. Outside of Europe, Costa Rica (6), Jamaica (8), New Zealand (13), Australia (19) and Suriname (20) placed highest.
Reporters Without Borders bases its rankings on criteria including pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency and quality of infrastructure supporting news and information production. The organization relies on information obtained from questionnaires filled out by journalists, as well as data on arrests and killings of media professionals.
Worldwide press freedom is in decline, according to Reporters Without Borders. The press freedom situation situation has worsened over the last year in nearly two thirds of the 180 countries in the index, the organization states. Reporters Without Borders says democratic governments, not just authoritarian regimes, are reducing media freedom through the use of draconian laws, conflicts of interest and physical violence.
Currently, there are 193 journalists worldwide who are behind bars. Another 166 “netizens” and 10 media assistants are currently imprisoned. Reporters Without Borders only counts journalists the organization confirms were imprisoned in connection with their work.
Turkey (49 imprisoned journalists), Egypt (23), China (21) and Iran (15) are the current world leaders in locking up media professionals, according to the index.
Last December, Reporters Without Borders issued a report stating 74 journalists were killed in 2016. A total of 110 journalists were killed in 2015, according to the organization.
Thus far, eight journalists have been killed in 2017. Three of the eight killings have taken place in Mexico, while two occurred in Iraq and one killing each took place in Afghanistan, Russia and Syria.