Sweeping protests around the world made it an extremely difficult year for the media, and tested journalists as never before, the annual report into press freedom reveals.
The annual report by Reporters Without Borders has been released, showing the United States fell 27 points on the list due to the many arrests of journalists covering Occupy Wall Street protests.
The slide in the United States places it just behind Comoros and Taiwan in a group with Argentina and Romania.
Reporters Without Borders said the heightened unrest around the world resulted in a significant shake-up of the group’s annual Press Freedom Index, which assesses governments’ commitment to protecting media freedoms.
The Paris-based non-governmental Reporters Without Borders has named “crackdown” the word of 2011 in an assessment of global media freedom during a year in which journalists covering sweeping protests were tested as never before.
The non-governmental organisation seeks to defend journalists’ freedom to work and combat censorship internationally.
Despite the big changes, some constants remained. The country with the freest media in the world was Finland, followed by Norway, Estonia, the Netherlands and Austria. Eritrea was last, with North Korea just above.
The United States was not alone in the falling grades: Bahrain fell 29 points because of the crackdown in that country.
Egypt and Syria also fell a few points to languish near the bottom of the pack (166) and (176) respectively.
The group judged that Syria, along with Iran and China, ‘seem to have lost contact with reality as they have been sucked into an insane spiral of terror.’
Pakistan was the world’s deadliest country for journalists, and Eritrea came in last in the list of overall press freedom.Syria, where an uprising against the government has been met with a brutal crackdown that has left more than 5,000 people dead, received its worst rating ever at 176.
In Afghanistan (150th) and Pakistan (151st), reporters remained under constant threat from the Taliban, religious extremists, separatist movements and political groups. With 10 deaths last year, Pakistan was the world’s most dangerous country for journalists for the second year in a row.
‘Never have journalists, through their reporting, vexed the enemies of freedom so much. Never have acts of censorship and physical attacks on journalists seemed so numerous.
The equation is simple: the absence or suppression of civil liberties leads necessarily to the suppression of media freedom. Dictatorships fear and ban information, especially when it may undermine them,’ it said.
Elsewhere within the European Union, countries such as Bulgaria (80th), Greece (70th) and Italy (61st) failed to address the issue of media freedom violations, largely because of a lack of political will.
Libya came in 154th in the list, while Yemen was in 171th place.’
‘The future of both of these countries remains uncertain, and the place they will allow the media is undecided.
The same goes for Egypt, which fell 39 places to 166th place.’
Syria was 176th, because journalists were unable to work because of total censorship, widespread surveillance, indiscriminate violence and government manipulation.
The report also highlights how pro-democracy movements that tried to emulate the example of the Arab revolutions were brutally suppressed. Vietnam (172nd) saw many arrests, while China (174th) stepped up its system of controlling news and information in response to public dissatisfaction with corruption and other injustices.
The biggest falls in the index were in Africa – Djibouti fell 49 places to 159th, Malawi (146th) fell 67 places and Uganda fell 43 places to 139th.
The Paris-based press freedom watchdog said Wednesday that the wave of uprisings in the Middle East, the Occupy movement in the West and continued protests in China gave journalists an unprecedented role in advancing democracy. But they also were often targeted by governments trying to quash dissent.
‘Never has freedom of information been so closely associated with democracy. Never have journalists, through their reporting, vexed the enemies of freedom so much,’ the group said in a statement accompanying its report.
But the important role journalists played put them in the cross hairs of repressive regimes, the report said, adding: ‘Never have acts of censorship and physical attacks on journalists seemed so numerous.’