| Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2005
North Korea, Eritrea and Turkmenistan are the world’s “black holes” for news
More and more African countries move up the list
North Korea once again comes bottom of the Reporters Without Borders fourth annual World Press Freedom Index, released today. It is closely followed in the 167-country list by Eritrea (166th) and Turkmenistan (165th), which are other “black holes” for news where the privately-owned media is not allowed and freedom of expression does not exist.
Journalists there simply relay government propaganda. Anyone out of step is harshly dealt with. A word too many, a commentary that deviates from the official line or a wrongly-spelled name and the author may be thrown in prison or draw the wrath of those in power. Harassment, psychological pressure, intimidation and round-the-clock surveillance are routine.
East Asia (Burma 163rd, China 159th, Vietnam 158th, Laos 155th), Central Asia (Turkmenistan 165th, Uzbekistan 155th, Afghanistan 125th, Kazakhstan 119th) and the Middle East (Iran 164th, Iraq 157th, Saudi Arabia 154th, Syria 145th) are where journalists have the toughest time and where government repression or armed groups prevent the media operating freely.
The situation in Iraq (157th) deteriorated further during the year as the safety of journalists became more precarious. At least 24 journalists and media assistants have been killed so far this year, making it the mostly deadly conflict for the media since World War II. A total of 72 media workers have been killed since the fighting began in March 2003.
But more and more African and Latin American countries (Benin 25th, Namibia 25th, El Salvador 28th, Cape Verde 29th, Mauritius 34th, Mali 37th, Costa Rica 41st and Bolivia 45th) are getting very good rankings.
Western democracies slip back
Some Western democracies slipped down the Index. The United States (44th) fell more than 20 places, mainly because of the imprisonment of New York Times reporter Judith Miller and legal moves undermining the privacy of journalistic sources. Canada (21st) also dropped several places due to decisions that weakened the privacy of sources and sometimes turned journalists into “court auxiliaries.” France (30th) also slipped, largely because of searches of media offices, interrogations of journalists and introduction of new press offences.
At the top of the Index once again are northern European countries Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Iceland, Norway and the Netherlands, where robust press freedom is firmly established. The top 10 countries are all European. New Zealand (12th), Trinidad and Tobago (12th), Benin (25th) and South Korea (34th) are the highest-ranked countries in other continents.
Press freedom, economic development and independence
Countries that have recently won their independence or have recovered it are very observant of press freedom and give the lie to the insistence of many authoritarian leaders that democracy takes decades to establish itself. Nine states that have had independence (or recovered it within the past 15 years) are among the top 60 countries - Slovenia (9th), Estonia (11th), Latvia (16th), Lithuania (21st), Namibia (25th), Bosnia-Herzegovina (33rd), Macedonia (43rd), Croatia (56th) and East Timor (58th).
The Index also contradicts the frequent argument by leaders of poor and repressive countries that economic development is a vital precondition for democracy and respect for human rights. The top of the Index is heavily dominated by rich countries, but several very poor ones (with a per capita GDP of less than $1,000 in 2003) are among the top 60, such as Benin (25th), Mali (37th), Bolivia (45th), Mozambique (49th), Mongolia (53rd), Niger (57th) and East Timor (58th).
Two reasons for improvement
More African countries are moving up into the top half of the index each year thanks to their progress in the fight against impunity and the abolition of prison terms for press offences such as libel and slander and the printing of inaccurate news.
While those that usually respect press freedom - Cape Verde (29th), South Africa (31st), Mauritius (34th) and Mali (37th) - kept their positions in 2005, Mozambique jumped from 64th to 49th place. Heavy sentences passed on the killers of Mozambican journalist Carlos Cardoso helped to calm a situation which was difficult in the late 1990s. Decriminalisation of press offences in the Central African Republic lifted the country from 104th to 82nd place and Angola (76th) also improved its ranking further due to legal reforms as it emerged from a long civil war.
Continued failure to punish the murderers of Norbert Zongo in Burkina Faso (78th) and unfulfilled promises of decriminalisation by President Abdoulaye Wade in Senegal (79th) prevented these countries from moving up, though the situation was worse in Cameroon (83rd), where journalists are still routinely thrown in prison. Internationally-observed elections allowed Guinea-Bissau (71st) and Liberia (83rd) to move up slightly.
Unjust laws and repressive governments held back some countries where there is genuine news diversity, such as Madagascar (97th), Guinea (102nd), Kenya (109th), Chad (109th), Mauritania (127th) and Ethiopia (131st).
Press freedom sharply deteriorated in some countries. Gambia, with general mistrust between media and government in recent years, dropped to 130th place because of the unpunished murder of journalist Deyda Hydara and the increasingly hostile attitude to the media by President Yahya Jammeh. In Sierra Leone (126th), political and police violence against journalists worsened an already bad situation with the murder of Harry Yansaneh, who replaced the jailed Paul Kamara as editor of the daily paper For Di People.
Despite efforts by journalists to defend themselves in Somalia (149th), the country is still one the continent’s most dangerous places for the media and has not managed to emerge from general disorder. Two women journalists, the BBC’s Kate Peyton and Duniya Muhiyadin Nur, of the radio station HornAfrik, were killed during the year in Mogadishu.
Pervasive violence and repression, backed by often absurd laws, prevented any improvement in the ranking of the Democratic Republic of Congo (146th). Zimbabwe (153rd) meanwhile continued downward, with one of the continent’s most ruthless regimes facing a courageous but poorly-equipped independent press. In Eritrea, which at (166th) is bottom-but-one of the world ranking, press freedom has not existed since 18 September 2001, when the privately-owned media was abolished.
How the index was compiled
Evaluation by region:
- Middle East
Middle East index
|-||Trinidad and Tobago||2,00|
|33||Bosnia and Herzegovina||7,00|
|44||United States of America (American territory)||9,50|
|65||Serbia and Montenegro||14,83|
|82||Central African Republic||19,75|
|-||United Arab Emirates||25,75|
|137||United States of America (in Iraq)||48,50|
|146||Democratic Republic of Congo||57,33|