| Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2005
North Korea, Eritrea and Turkmenistan are the world’s “black holes” for news
The 10 highest-ranked countries are in Europe, with Russia, Central Asia and the Caucasus near the bottom
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).
The top 10 countries are in Europe but gaps are widening between European Union members
The highest-ranked countries may all be European but the press freedom gap is widening between member-states of the European Union. Poland (53rd), for example, slipped nearly 20 places this year, mainly because a journalist was heavily fined for “offensive remarks” about the Pope, a taboo subject. An investigative journalist on the satirical weekly Nie also faces between three months and five years in prison for refusing to reveal his sources. His computer hard-drive was put under legal seal at his home on 23 June, depriving him of his work equipment for several months.
Spain gets a poor ranking (40th) largely because of continued threats to journalists by ETA Basque militants. In Italy (42nd), a search of the offices of the daily Corriere della Sera last May, after it printed a report about the use of Italian Beretta pistols in Iraq, showed how strong the temptation still is to violate the secrecy of journalistic sources. The position of the United Kingdom (24th) is due to the situation in Northern Ireland, where journalists continue to be threatened by paramilitary groups.
The countries waiting to join the European Union do not score well. Despite efforts, press freedom is not securely established in Bulgaria (48th), Croatia (56th) and Romania (70th).
Journalists in Turkey (98th) objected strongly to a new criminal code adopted in June but the country still advanced 15 places because of a drop in press freedom violations.
Central Asia, the Caucasus and Russia at the bottom of the list
In the Caucasus, press freedom sharply deteriorated in Azerbaijan (141st). The murder of independent journalist Elmar Husseynov in March illustrated the violence and harassment journalists are exposed to there. Attacks on press freedom are increasing in the run-up to parliamentary elections on 6 November.
The repressive regime of President Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus (152nd) has systematically shut down the country’s few struggling independent newspapers by throttling them financially with huge fines or using ridiculous bureaucratic pretexts. Belarus slipped down the Index mainly because of jail sentences on several journalists for covering opposition demonstrations.
Ukraine, however, jumped up to 112th place, from 138th in 2004, because of the abolition of censorship after the “Orange Revolution” and the coming to power of President Viktor Yushchenko. The killers of journalist Georgy Gongadze were identified and will soon be tried, but those behind the murder are still free. The picture is marred by continuing violence against journalists.
In Russia (138th), a journalist was murdered and another survived an attempt to kill him. More than a year after the killing of Paul Khlebnikov, editor of the Russian edition of the US magazine Forbes, the authorities closed the investigation and said Chechen independence militant Kozh-Akhmed Nukhayev ordered him killed. Chechnya remains a major “black hole” for news in Russia. The government has also steadily taken control of all the country’s TV stations, seriously threatening news diversity.
The fierce repression of journalists in Uzbekistan (155th) has become routine since the bloody crackdown in Andijan on 13 May. The “witchhunt” launched by President Islam Karimov included the arbitrary arrest of three journalists and a concerted campaign against the media. Foreign media were officially accused of fomenting the Andijan rebellion.
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|