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‘Media Freedom Under Threat More Than Ever,’ Watchdog Warns

Freedom of information is urged on French presidential campaign posters in Paris.
Freedom of information is urged on French presidential campaign posters in Paris.

The press rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is warning that media freedom is increasingly threatened under authoritarian regimes as well as in countries regarded as models of democracy.

The Paris-based group says in its 2017 World Press Index, released on April 26, that violations of press freedom are no longer the prerogative of authoritarian regimes and dictatorships.

RSF says countries where the situation for media is considered “good” or “fairly good” has fallen in the span of just a year, and so-called model democracies are no exception to the trend when it comes to a worsening situation for journalists.

Canada, ranked 22nd out of the 180 countries in the survey, has fallen four places in this year’s index, while the United States, ranked 43rd has fallen by two places. Even the Nordic countries – which traditionally lead the RSF annual index – have dropped a few places in this years’ index.

“The democracies that have traditionally regarded media freedom as one of the foundations on which they are built must continue to be a model for the rest of the world, and not the opposite,” RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said.

“By eroding this fundamental freedom on the grounds of protecting their citizens, the democracies are in danger of losing their souls,” Deloire said.

RSF says that verbal attacks by U.S. President Donald Trump against media and journalists – such as accusing them of being “among the most dishonest human beings on earth” and of deliberately spreading “fake news” – compromise an American tradition of defending freedom of expression.

In Canada, at least six journalists had been spied upon by police trying to identify sources, which reporters have a duty to protect, RSF notes.

Britain adopted a law extending the surveillance powers of the intelligence services in late 2016.

RSF’s annual press freedom index includes a world map, in which countries are categorized by different colors depending on the situation of press freedom there: white indicates “good,” yellow – “fairly good,” orange – “problematic,” red – “bad,” and black indicates “very bad.”

“The global indicator calculated by RSF has never been so high, which means that media freedom is under threat now more than ever,” the nongovernmental organization says.

RSF says that the 2017 Index shows the “ever darker world map” as a total of 21 countries are now colored black on the press freedom map, and 51 – two more than the last year – are colored red. In all, the situation the situation has worsened in nearly two-thirds of the 180 countries covered in the Index, RSF says.

At the bottom of the Index, Turkmenistan has held on to its 178th-place ranking -- a ranking higher than only North Korea and Eritrea.

RSF says any criticism of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov is inconceivable in Turkmenistan, where the government has total control over media.

The government has intensified its harassment of the few remaining correspondents of foreign- based independent media and also continues its campaign to remove all satellite dishes, denying the public of one of its last chances to access alternative news, RSF says.

Turkmenistan’s neighbors, Azerbaijan, Iran, and Uzbekistan are all colored black in RSF 2017 Index world map, meaning that the situation of press freedom in these countries is classified as “very bad.”

Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan are among the countries where the situation for press rights is “bad,” while Georgia, Armenia, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine are ranked among the Index’s “orange” countries, where RSF says the media freedom situation is considered a “noticeable problem.”

The Index’s “orange” countries also include Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, Kosovo, and Montenegro, while Macedonia has been classified as a “red” country.

Afghanistan also is among the states classified as “red” for press freedom. RSF says “the courageous efforts” by Afghan journalists to full their reporting mission are frustrated by constant security threats posed by the Taliban and Islamic State extremists.

RSF’s World Press Freedom Index, published annually since 2002, measures the level of media freedoms on the basis of pluralism, media independence, and respect of the safely and freedom of journalists.

The 20017 Index takes account of violations that occurred between January 1 and December 31 of 2016.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Farangis Najibullah
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