Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Reporters Without Borders launched 2010 report on freedom of the press

20 October 2010

Europe falls from its pedestal, no respite in the dictatorships, says RSF. Turkey ranks 138th

As already denounced in the 2009 edition of the World Press Freedom Index, the often liberticidal legislative activity of certain European Union Member States, and the new upsurge in anti-press proceedings brought by political leaders, are weakening the European freedom of expression model and, in so doing, are undermining its external policy and the universal impact of its values. The World Press Freedom Index released today by Reporters WIthout Borders makes a sad read. Ireland is still punishing blasphemy with a EUR 25,000 fine. Romania now considers the media a threat to national security and plans to legally censor its activities. In Italy, where ten or so journalists still live under police protection, only an unprecedented national media mobilisation’s tenacity helped to defeat a bill aimed at prohibiting the publication of the content of telephone call intercepts, one of the main sources used in judicial and investigative journalism. Although the United Kingdom still benefits from a free and high-quality media, its defamation laws offer grounds for assembly-line trials brought by censors of every sort. Not only would this be counter-productive, but all such actions would complicate the mission of those who, outside of the EU, are trying to secure the decriminalisation of press offences.

Among the EU-27 countries whose rankings declined the most, Bulgaria continues its slide and has ended up, along with Greece, in 70th place – the worst position held by EU member countries. France (44th) and Italy (49th), still dealing with some major interference in media activity by their political leaders, confirmed their status as the “dunces” of the EU’s founding countries. Although we may welcome with cautious relief the ebbing ETA attacks against the media in Spain (39th), we cannot help but be concerned by the court verdict of 21 months in prison and the prohibition to exercise their profession brought against Daniel Anido, director of the private radio station Cadena SER, and Rodolfo Irago, the news director of the same radio network. In Denmark (11th) as well as Sweden (1st), press freedom is faring well, but murder attempts against cartoonists Kurt Westergaard and Lars Vilks are opening a door to self-censorship, which until now had been negligible, in a climate of rising extremism and nationalism. Slovakia (35th), which is just emerging from former Prime Minister Robert Fico’s tumultuous era, now merits watching, while among the Baltic States, Latvia (30th) is experiencing an odd return to violence and censorship in an electoral period.

The Balkan Peninsula is still a concern and has recorded major changes. Montenegro (-27), Macedonia (-34), Serbia (-23) and Kosovo (-17) constitute the most substantial losses.

At Europe’s doors, Turkey and Ukraine are experiencing historically low rankings, the former (138th) being separated from Russia’s position (140th) only by Ethiopia (139th). These declines can be explained, as far as Turkey is concerned, by the frenzied proliferation of lawsuits, incarcerations, and court sentencing targeting journalists. Among them, there are many media outlets and professionals which are either Kurd or are covering the Kurd issue. Ukraine is paying the price of the multiple press freedom violations which have broadsided the country since February 2010 and Viktor Yanukovych’s election as Head of State. These violations initially met with indifference by the local authorities. Worse still, censorship has signalled its return, particularly in the audiovisual sector, and serious conflicts of interest are menacing Ukraine’s media pluralism.

Ten countries where it is not good to be a journalist

In recent years, Reporters Without Borders drew particular attention to the three countries that were always in the last three positions – Eritrea, North Korea and Turkmenistan. This year, a bigger group of ten countries – marked by persecution of the media and a complete lack of news and information – are clumped together at the bottom. The press freedom situation keeps on deteriorating in these countries and it is getting harder to say which is worse than the other. The difference between the scores of the “best” and worst of the last 10 countries was only 24.5 points this year. It was 37.5 points in 2009 and 43.25 points in 2007.

Economic growth does not mean press freedom

The BRICs – Brazil, Russia, India and China – may all be at a roughly similar stage of economic development but the 2010 index highlights major differences in the press freedom situation in these countries. Thanks to favourable legislative changes, Brazil (58th) has risen 12 places in the past year, while India has fallen 17 places to 122nd. Russia, which had a particularly deadly preceding year, is still poorly placed at 140th. Despite an astonishingly vibrant and active blogosphere, China still censors and jails dissidents and continues to languish in 171st place. These four countries now shoulder the responsibilities of the emerging powers and must fulfil their obligations as regards fundamental rights.