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Press Freedom Falls Big in the US. In Brazil Is a Little Worse

Freedom of press in the United States has fallen to the same level of Botswana, Croatia and Tonga. The US came in 53rd place in latest Reporters Without Borders’ worldwide ranking of press freedom. In Brazil the situation is even worse. The country appears in 75th place, behind Kosovo, Congo and Kuwait

In the just-released list, new countries have moved ahead of some Western democracies while the most repressive countries are still the same ones.

North Korea appears as the world’s worst violator of press freedom. On the other hand, Finland, Ireland, Iceland and the Netherlands come all in first place as the countries that enjoy liberty the most. 

"Unfortunately nothing has changed in the countries that are the worst predators of press freedom," the organization said, "and journalists in North Korea, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, Cuba, Burma and China are still risking their life or imprisonment for trying to keep us informed. These situations are extremely serious and it is urgent that leaders of these countries accept criticism and stop routinely cracking down on the media so harshly.

"Each year new countries in less-developed parts of the world move up the Index to positions above some European countries or the United States. This is good news and shows once again that, even though very poor, countries can be very observant of freedom of expression. Meanwhile the steady erosion of press freedom in the United States, France and Japan is extremely alarming," Reporters Without Borders said.

The three worst violators of free expression – North Korea, bottom of the Index at 168th place, Turkmenistan (167th) and Eritrea (166th) – have clamped down further. The torture death of Turkmenistan journalist Ogulsapar Muradova shows that the country’s leader, "President-for-Life" Separmurad Nyazov, is willing to use extreme violence against those who dare to criticize him.

Reporters Without Borders is also extremely concerned about a number of Eritrean journalists who have been imprisoned in secret for more than five years. The all-powerful North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, also continues to totally control the media.

Northern European countries once again come top of the Index, with no recorded censorship, threats, intimidation or physical reprisals in Finland, Ireland, Iceland and the Netherlands, which all share first place.

US, Japan and France

The United States (53rd) has fallen nine places since last year, after being in 17th position in the first year of the Index, in 2002. Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of "national security" to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his "war on terrorism."

The zeal of federal courts which, unlike those in 33 US states, refuse to recognize the media’s right not to reveal its sources, even threatens journalists whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism.

Freelance journalist and blogger Josh Wolf was imprisoned when he refused to hand over his video archives. Sudanese cameraman Sami al-Haj, who works for the pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera, has been held without trial since June 2002 at the US military base at Guantanamo, and Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein has been held by US authorities in Iraq since April this year.

France (35th) slipped five places during the past year, to make a loss of 24 places in five years. The increase in searches of media offices and journalists’ homes is very worrying for media organizations and trade unions.

Autumn 2005 was an especially bad time for French journalists, several of whom were physically attacked or threatened during a trade union dispute involving privatization of the Corsican firm SNCM and during violent demonstrations in French city suburbs in November.

Rising nationalism and the system of exclusive press clubs (kishas) threatened democratic gains in Japan, which fell 14 places to 51st. The newspaper Nihon Keizai was firebombed and several journalists physically attacked by far-right activists (uyoku).

Disparities in the Americas

Three journalists were killed in each of Colombia (131st) and Mexico (132th). A Mexican reporter also disappeared along the US border, where drug-traffickers threaten the media. Cuba (165th) remains the world’s second biggest prison for journalists, with 24 in jail, and still does not allow an independent media.

The other surprise, along with Bolivia’s good position, was the slipping of Brazil (to 75th place) and Argentina (to 76th). One journalist was killed in Brazil over the past year and physical attacks on local media are still numerous.

Relations between Argentina’s national media and the presidency are still very bad and cutting off state subsidies is no longer the only way used to cow media outlets. Suspensions and dismissal of journalists are sometimes the result of direct pressure by politicians.

The atmosphere is still tense in Peru (113th) and in Venezuela (115th), where the consequences of the "media war" between supporters of opponents of President Hugo Chávez persist.

Changes of ruler are sometimes good for press freedom, as in the case of Haiti, which has risen from 125th to 87th place in two years after the flight into exile of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in early 2004. Several murders of journalists remain unpunished but violence against the media has abated.

Except for Guatemala (90th), Central America as a whole has good rankings despite the gap between countries such as Costa Rica (29th), Panama (39th) and El Salvador (41st), and Honduras (64th) and Nicaragua (69th). The few physical attacks on journalists also shows that self-censorship is at work.

Mohammed Cartoons Fallout

Denmark (19th) dropped from joint first place because of serious threats against the authors of the Mohammed cartoons published there in autumn 2005. For the first time in recent years in a country that is very observant of civil liberties, journalists had to have police protection due to threats against them because of their work.

Yemen (149th) slipped four places, mainly because of the arrest of several journalists and closure of newspapers that reprinted the cartoons. Journalists were harassed for the same reason in Algeria (126th), Jordan (109th), Indonesia (103rd) and India (105th).

But except for Yemen and Saudi Arabia (161st), all the Arab peninsula countries considerably improved their rank. Kuwait (73rd) kept its place at the top of the group, just ahead of the United Arab Emirates (77th) and Qatar (80th).

Newcomers to the Top

Two countries moved into the Index’s top 20 for the first time. Bolivia (16th) was best-placed among less-developed countries and during the year its journalists enjoyed the same level of freedom as colleagues in Canada or Austria.

Bosnia-Herzegovina (19th) continued its gradual rise up the Index since the end of the war in ex-Yugoslavia and is now placed above its European Union member-state neighbors Greece (32nd) and Italy (40th).

Ghana (34th) rose 32 places to become fourth in Africa behind the continent’s three traditional leaders – Benin (23rd), Namibia (26th) and Mauritius (32nd). Economic conditions are still difficult for the Ghanaian media but it is no longer threatened by the authorities.

Panama (39th) is enjoying political peace which has helped the growth of a free and vigorous media and the country moved up 27 places over the year.

War, Destroyer of Press Freedom

Lebanon has fallen from 56th to 107th place in five years, as the country’s media continues to suffer from the region’s poisonous political atmosphere, with a series of bomb attacks in 2005 and Israeli military attacks this year.

The Lebanese media – some of the freest and most experienced in the Arab world – desperately need peace and guarantees of security. The inability of the Palestinian Authority (134th) to maintain stability in its territories and the behavior of Israel (135th) outside its borders seriously threaten freedom of expression in the Middle East.

Things are much the same in Sri Lanka, which ranked 51st in 2002, when there was peace, but has now sunk to 141st because fighting between government and rebel forces has resumed in earnest. Dozens of Tamil journalists have been physically attacked after being accused by one side or the other of being biased against them.

Press freedom in Nepal (159th) has shifted according to the state of the fighting that has disrupted the country for several years. The "democratic revolution" and the revolt against the monarchy in April this year led immediately to more basic freedoms and the country should gain a lot of ground in next year’s Index.

Togo (66th) has risen 29 places since the death of President Gnassingbe Eyadema in February 2005, the accession to power of his son and internationally-backed efforts to make peace with the opposition.

A coup in Mauritania in August 2005 ended the heavy censorship of the local media and the country has risen to 77th position after being 138th in 2004, one of the biggest improvements in the Index.

Reporters Without Borders compiled the Index by asking the 14 freedom of expression organizations that are its partners worldwide, its network of 130 correspondents, as well as journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists, to answer 50 questions about press freedom in their countries. The Index covers 168 nations. Others were not included for lack of data about them.

The ranking

N° Country Score

1 Finland 0,50
– Iceland 0,50
– Ireland 0,50
– Netherlands 0,50
5 Czech Republic 0,75
6 Estonia 2,00
– Norway 2,00
8 Slovakia 2,50
– Switzerland 2,50
10 Hungary 3,00
– Latvia 3,00
– Portugal 3,00
– Slovenia 3,00
14 Belgium 4,00
– Sweden 4,00
16 Austria 4,50
– Bolivia 4,50
– Canada 4,50
19 Bosnia and Herzegovina 5,00
– Denmark 5,00
– New-Zealand 5,00
– Trinidad and Tobago 5,00
23 Benin 5,50
– Germany 5,50
– Jamaica 5,50
26 Namibia 6,00
27 Lithuania 6,50
– United Kingdom 6,50
29 Costa Rica 6,67
30 Cyprus 7,50
31 South Korea 7,75
32 Greece 8,00
– Mauritius 8,00
34 Ghana 8,50
35 Australia 9,00
– Bulgaria 9,00
– France 9,00
– Mali 9,00
39 Panama 9,50
40 Italy 9,90
41 El Salvador 10,00
– Spain 10,00
43 Taiwan 10,50
44 South Africa 11,25
45 Cape Verde 11,50
– Macedonia 11,50
– Mozambique 11,50
– Serbia and Montenegro 11,50
49 Chile 11,63
50 Israel 12,00
51 Japan 12,50
52 Dominican Republic 12,75
53 Botswana 13,00
– Croatia 13,00
– Tonga 13,00
– United States of America 13,00
57 Uruguay 13,75
58 Fiji 14,00
– Hong-Kong 14,00
– Poland 14,00
– Romania 14,00
62 Central African Republic 14,50
– Cyprus (North) 14,50
– Guinea-Bissau 14,50
– Honduras 14,50
66 Madagascar 15,00
– Togo 15,00
68 Ecuador 15,25
69 Nicaragua 15,50
70 Burkina Faso 16,00
– Kosovo 16,00
– Lesotho 16,00
73 Congo 17,00
– Kuwait 17,00
75 Brazil 17,17
76 Argentina 17,30
77 Mauritania 17,50
– Senegal 17,50
– United Arab Emirates 17,50
80 Albania 18,00
– Qatar 18,00
82 Paraguay 18,25
83 Timor-Leste 18,50
84 Liberia 19,00
85 Moldova 19,17
86 Mongolia 19,25
87 Haiti 19,50
88 Tanzania 19,82
89 Georgia 21,00
90 Guatemala 21,25
91 Angola 21,50
92 Malaysia 22,25
93 Comoros 22,50
– Zambia 22,50
95 Niger 24,50
– Seychelles 24,50
97 Morocco 24,83
98 Bhutan 25,00
– Côte d’Ivoire 25,00
– Turkey 25,00
101 Armenia 25,50
– Malawi 25,50
103 Indonesia 26,00
– Sierra Leone 26,00
105 India 26,50
– Ukraine 26,50
107 Lebanon 27,00
108 Cambodia 27,25
109 Guinea 27,50
– Jordan 27,50
111 Bahrein 28,00
112 Cameroon 28,25
– Peru 28,25
114 Gabon 28,50
115 Venezuela 29,00
116 Uganda 29,83
117 Tajikistan 30,00
118 Kenya 30,25
119 United States of America (extra-territorial) 31,50
120 Nigeria 32,23
121 Djibouti 33,00
122 Thailand 33,50
123 Kyrgyzstan 34,00
124 Chad 35,50
125 Burundi 39,83
126 Algeria 40,00
127 Swaziland 40,50
128 Kazakhstan 41,00
– Rwanda 41,00
130 Afghanistan 44,25
131 Colombia 44,75
132 Mexico 45,83
133 Egypt 46,25
134 Palestinian Authority 46,75
135 Azerbaijan 47,00
– Israel (extra-territorial) 47,00
137 Bangladesh 48,00
– Equatorial Guinea 48,00
139 Sudan 48,13
140 Zimbabwe 50,00
141 Sri Lanka 50,75
142 Democratic Republic of Congo 51,00
– Philippines 51,00
144 Maldives 51,25
– Somalia 51,25
146 Singapore 51,50
147 Russia 52,50
148 Tunisia 53,75
149 Gambia 54,00
– Yemen 54,00
151 Belarus 57,00
152 Libya 62,50
153 Syria 63,00
154 Iraq 66,83
155 Vietnam 67,25
156 Laos 67,50
157 Pakistan 70,33
158 Uzbekistan 71,00
159 Nepal 73,50
160 Ethiopia 75,00
161 Saudi Arabia 76,00
162 Iran 90,88
163 China 94,00
164 Burma 94,75
165 Cuba 95,00
166 Eritrea 97,50
167 Turkmenistan 98,50
168 North Korea 109,00

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  • Show Comments (2)

  • ch.c.

    funny arguments…..
    that Denmark moved from 1st to 19th place….because of death threats from
    Muslims !
    Where is the common sense to reduce the ranking of a country….when deaths threats come from…. Other Countries People ?

  • Rick

    Thank you Newsroom, your take is well pointed. But who is that is writing headlines such, as “Press Freedom Falls Big in the US. In Brazil is a Little Worse.”. Borat?

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