On October 24 “Reporters without Borders” (RSF) international organization released its fifth annual World Press Freedom Index. The study was conducted in 168 countries and territories and based on events between September 1, 2005 to September 1, 2006. RSF Index was compiled by surveying 14 partner organizations and 130 correspondents of RSF, as well as journalists, researchers, lawyers and human rights activists. The respondents were assessing the press freedom in each country with a questionnaire compiled by RSF and including 50 criteria: ranging from various forms of pressure on journalists and media to legislative restrictions, the behavior of authorities towards the state-owned media and foreign press. Obstacles to the free flow of information on the Internet were also taken into account.
The ranking of RSF, similarly to the previous research (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, October 21-27, 2005), is ending with North Korea (168th rank), Turkmenistan (167) and Eritrea (166). In these three countries, like Cuba (165), Burma (164) and China (163), journalists go on obtaining information, risking their lives or their freedom.
The top lines in the rating of RSF were shared by Finland, Iceland, Ireland and the Netherlands. As a positive trend, showing “again that, even though very poor, countries can be very observant of freedom of expression ", RSF notes “each year new countries in less-developed parts of the world move up the Index to positions above some European countries or the United States”. “Meanwhile the steady erosion of press freedom in the United States, France and Japan is extremely alarming”, the study says.
While in 2002, in the first RSF Index, the United States of America was in 17th position, today it has gone down to 53-56. “Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of ‘national security’ to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his ‘war on terrorism’.” The obstinate unwillingness of the federal courts, unlike those in 33 US states, refuse to recognize the media’s right not to reveal its sources, even threatens journalists whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism, RSF stresses, listing also the cases of persecution of journalists, including foreign citizens.
France, rating 11 in 2002, now fell to 35-38. RSF explains it by increases in searches at media editorial offices and homes of journalists, as well as the cases of violence against press during the protest actions in French cities in autumn 2005.
In the opinion of RSF, rising nationalism and the system of exclusive press clubs “threatened democratic gains in Japan”, and, along with cases of attacks on media and journalists, resulted in a 14-place fall to 51st rank since last research.
The most favorable situation of press freedom is in EU member countries, taking the top 15 lines in the rating along with Switzerland and Norway. However, the Switzerland indicators (8-9), sharing the first place in the last study, worsened this time. This is explained by RSF mainly by the two media persecution for publication of secret official debates. Another leader of the previous rating, Denmark, this time went down to places 19-22 due to the serious threats against the authors of the Prophet Mohammed cartoons, published in autumn 2005.
Two newcomers appeared among the top twenty of the rating – Bolivia (16-18) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (19-22). Among other countries, displaying much progress, RSF notes Ghana (34) that has risen 32 places: while economic conditions are still difficult for the Ghanian media, the authorities have stopped threatening them.
Of the post-Soviet countries the freest ones are still Estonia (6-7), Latvia (10-13) and Lithuania (27-28). The Baltic countries, with a big gap, are followed by Moldova (85), Georgia (89), Armenia (101-102), Ukraine (105-106), Tajikistan (117), Kyrgyzstan (123), Kazakhstan (128-129), Azerbaijan (135-136), Russia (147), Belarus (151) and Uzbekistan (158). Russia, the study says, “continues slowly but steadily dismantling free media with industrial groups close to President Vladimir Putin buying up nearly all independent media outlets and with passage of a law discouraging NGO activities”. Every year journalists are murdered in Russia with complete impunity, RSF say, reminding that the orders of murder of Paul Khlebnikov, Editor of Russian edition of “Forbes” magazine, in July 2004 remain publicly unknown. In the opinion of RSF, the murder of Anna Politkovskaya in early October 2006 “is a poor omen for the coming year”.
Similarly to the previous RSF studies, this report does not in any way comment on the situation of freedom of press in Armenia. It is still unclear what criteria define the rises and falls of Armenia in the rating: from 90 in 2003 to 83 in 2004, then to 102 in 2005, remaining on the same positions in 2006.