| Reporters Without Frontiers has published the first worldwide
press freedom index. According to the organization's analysts, it has some
surprises for Western democracies. The list includes 139 countries. North
Korea is at the bottom of the list, as the country with least press freedom,
and China is ranked 138th. The United States, which always boasts about
its democratic traditions, ranks 17th.
The top five countries include Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Netherlands
and Canada. Germany is seventh, right after the Ireland. Portugal and
Sweden are ranked 8th and 9th, respectively. And Denmark is 10th.
France ranks 11th, Switzerland is in 16th place, and Great Britain is
22nd. Russia was ranked 121st. Ukraine is in 112th place, and Turkmenistan
is 136th, among the bottom-ranked countries.
The fact that United States ranks below Costa Rica and Italy scores
lower than Benin, came as a surprise, notes the press release of the organization.
According to the experts, it shows that freedom is under attack everywhere,
with the 20 bottom-ranked countries drawn from Asia, Africa, Latin America
and Europe. The situation in especially bad in Asia, which contains the
five worst offenders - North Korea, China, Burma, Turkmenistan and Bhutan.
The report also concludes that press freedom does not just depend on
a country's material prosperity. Costa Rica, ranked 15th and Benin, 21st
on the list, are good examples. The index was drawn up by asking journalists,
researchers and legal experts to answer 50 questions about a whole range
of press freedom violations, including murders or arrests of journalists,
censorship, pressure, state monopolies in various fields, punishment of
press law offences and regulation of the media. Countries were not included,
if no reliable information could be obtained.
In the worst-ranked countries, press freedom is a dead letter and independent
newspapers do not exist, according to Reporters Without Frontiers. Only
one voice is heard: that of a media that is tightly-controlled or monitored
by the government. The very few independent journalists are constantly
harassed, imprisoned or forced into exile by the authorities. The foreign
media in such countries is banned or allowed in very small doses, but
is always closely monitored.
According to the experts of the organization, the poor ranking of the
United States is attributable primarily to the number of journalists arrested
or imprisoned there. Arrests are often made in response to the refusal
of the journalists to reveal their sources in court. Furthermore, since
the 11 September attacks, several journalists have been arrested for crossing
security lines at official buildings.
The countries of the European Union all score well except for Italy,
ranked 40th, where news diversity is under serious threat. Prime Minister
Silvio Berlusconi is turning up the pressure on the state-owned television
stations, has named his henchmen to help run them and continues to combine his job as head of government with that of head of a privately-owned
media group, states the press release.
Elsewhere in Europe, outside the European Union, it is still difficult
to work as a journalist: several have been murdered or imprisoned in the
countries of the former Soviet bloc. In particular, the organization's
experts point to the case of Grigory Pasko, jailed since December 2001
in the Vladivostok region of Russia. He was given a four-year sentence
for publishing pictures of the Russian Navy pouring radioactive liquid
waste into the Sea of Japan. Slovenia ranked top among the former Soviet
block countries - 14th. Hungary was ranked 25th, Poland - 28th, Croatia
- 33rd, Bulgaria - 38th, Czech Republic - 41st, Bosnia - 43rd, Romania
- 45th, and Serbia and Montenegro - 40th. Among the former Soviet republics,
Tajikistan was given the best ranking: 86th. Kyrgyzstan is 98th, Azerbajian
- 101st, Kazakhstan - 116th, and Uzbekistan 120th.
Interestingly, there are no Arab countries in the top 50, the agency
notes. Among Arab countries, Lebanon got the highest ranking: it is 56th.
The Palestinian National Authority is 82, and Israel is 92nd.
Reporters Without Frontiers defends journalists and other media contributors
and professionals who have been imprisoned or persecuted for doing their
work, in accordance with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights. It has nine national branches in Germany, Austria, Belgium, Spain,
France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland. The organization
also has offices in Abidjan, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, Montreal,
Nairobi, New York, Tokyo and Washington. Reporters Without Frontiers has
over 100 correspondents all over the world.
of Speech and Media Law in Russia