Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has released its 2020 world press freedom index.
Country rankings here: https://rsf.org/en/ranking
This 2020 edition of the Index, which evaluates the situation for journalists each year in 180 countries and territories, suggests that the next ten years will be pivotal for press freedom because of converging crises affecting the future of journalism: a geopolitical crisis (due to the aggressiveness of authoritarian regimes); a technological crisis (due to a lack of democratic guarantees); a democratic crisis (due to polarisation and repressive policies); a crisis of trust (due to suspicion and even hatred of the media); and an economic crisis (impoverishing quality journalism).
These five areas of crisis – the effects of which the Index’s methodology allows us to evaluate - are now compounded by a global public health crisis.
There is a clear correlation between suppression of media freedom in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and a country’s ranking in the Index. Both China (177th) and Iran (down 3 at 173rd) censored their major coronavirus outbreaks extensively. In Iraq (down 6 at 162nd), the authorities stripped Reuters of its licence for three months after it published a story questioning official coronavirus figures. Even in Europe, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary (down 2 at 89th), had a “coronavirus” law passed with penalties of up to five years in prison for false information, a completely disproportionate and coercive measure.
“The public health crisis provides authoritarian governments with an opportunity to implement the notorious “shock doctrine” – to take advantage of the fact that politics are on hold, the public is stunned and protests are out of the question, in order to impose measures that would be impossible in normal times,”
Norway tops the Index for the fourth year in a row in 2020, while Finland is again the runner-up. Denmark (up 2 at 3rd) is next as both Sweden (down 1 at 4th) and the Netherlands (down 1 at 5th) have fallen as a result of increases in cyber-harassment. The other end of the Index has seen little change. North Korea (down 1 at 180th) has taken the last position from Turkmenistan, while Eritrea (178th) continues to be Africa’s worst-ranked country.
Europe's journalists face growing dangers
Troubling trends persist in North America despite region's improvementsMore and more of the continent’s journalists are suffering the consequences of a decline in the rule of law, assaults, online threats and financial troubles.
In the United States in 2019, local governments, religious leaders and the American public demonstrated a growing hostility toward the press and physical attacks persisted. However, the violence was nowhere near as severe as it was in 2018—when a gunman killed five employees at the Capital Gazette in Maryland—and the overall number of reported physical assaults in the United States was lower in 2019 than in the previous two years
Latin America's dark horizon for press freedomCanada's federal "shield law," which was adopted in 2017, was tested for the first time in September 2019, reaffirming journalists' rights to withhold the identities of their confidential sources in court. Unfortunately the shield law does not apply to the protection of confidential materials, such as communications. This was spotlighted in July 2019, when a court ruled that a VICE Canada reporter must divulge his confidential communications with a source to the federal police. This ruling has dangerous implications for journalistic independence, as reporters are not meant to be investigative arms of law enforcement, and depend on trustworthy source relationships to do their jobs effectively.
Future of African journalism under threat from all sidesAside from two notable exceptions – Costa Rica, now ranked 7th in the Index after rising three places, and Uruguay, which has held on to its 19th place – the 2020 Index is characterized by an overall decline in respect for press freedom in Latin America. Harassment and stigmatization of the media, fed by online disinformation and attacks, have increased in scope, especially in countries with major social conflicts.
Asia-Pacific - hyper-control and national-populist excessesPress freedom remains highly fragile in sub-Saharan Africa. The fall of several dictators and authoritarian governments in recent years in countries such as Angola (up three at 106th), Ethiopia (up 11 at 99th), Gambia (up five at 87th), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (up 4 at 150th), Sudan (up 16 at 159th) and Zimbabwe (up one at 126th), has loosened the noose on journalists in these countries.
However, the profound changes needed to allow high-quality, free and independent journalism to flourish are few and far between. Worse, some countries such as Tanzania (down six at 124th) and Benin (down 17 at 113th) have seen significant retreats. Arrests and arbitrary and lengthy detentions are increasing, as are on-line attacks and repressive new laws which can be abused to curb freedom of news and information on the pretext of fighting disinformation and Internet crime.
Eastern Europe and Central Asia - clampdown continuesOne of the lessons of the 2020 Index in Asia and Oceania is that press freedom is potentially in danger in any country. The proof is Australia (26th), formerly cited as a regional model, which has fallen five places, above all because of federal police raids on a journalist’s home and the state TV broadcaster’s headquarters. The precedent set by the raids poses a serious threat to investigative reporting and the confidentiality of journalists’ sources. It also drew Australians’ attention to the fact that their constitution is completely lacking in guarantees for the right to inform and to be informed.
The illusion of peace in the Middle EastAlmost everywhere in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, strongmen are consolidating their grip on news and information. They include Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey (up 3 at 154th), where censorship of the media, especially online media, has been stepped up. Turkey’s three-point rise in the Index is just the result of other countries falling, and the decrease in the number of imprisoned journalists following changes to judicial procedure in October 2019 was only temporary. Turkey is more authoritarian than ever.
Environment worsens for North Africa's journalistsAfter a slight drop in the number of infringements, any hopes of appeasement were dispelled by violent crackdowns on public protests, the resumption of increasingly localized military operations and tighter control by iron-fisted governments.
What with interminable trials in Morocco, frequent arrests and prolonged pre-trial detention in Algeria and media outlets pressganged into serving belligerents in Libya, the environment for journalists has continued to worsen in North Africa – except Tunisia, which continues its democratic transition despite delays with reforming its media legislation.
Top ten ranking:
7. Costa Rica
9. New Zealand