UK drops three places in Freedom of Press index

THE United Kingdom has fallen three places, to joint 27th, in a Freedom of the Press ‘league table’, now in its fifth year.

This year’s Reporters Without Borders Worldwide Press Freedom Index may have found no change among the most repressive regimes in the world, but it did find that a few “‘new countries’ have moved ahead of some Western democracies”.

Says the index authors: “Unfortunately, nothing has changed in the countries that are the worst predators of press freedom and journalists in North Korea, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, Cuba, Burma and China are still risking their life or imprisonment for trying to keep us informed. These situations are extremely serious and it is urgent that leaders of these countries accept criticism and stop routinely cracking down on the media so harshly.”

But they add: “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. This is good news and shows once again that, even though very poor, countries can be very observant of freedom of expression. Meanwhile, the steady erosion of press freedom in the United States, France and Japan is extremely alarming.”

Northern European countries once again come top of the Index, with no recorded censorship, threats, intimidation or physical reprisals in Finland, Ireland, Iceland and the Netherlands, which all share first place.

The United States (53rd) has fallen nine places since last year, after being in 17th position in the first year of the index, four years ago.

Continues the index of the US’s standing: “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.

“Freelance journalist and blogger, Josh Wolf, was imprisoned when he refused to hand over his video archives. Sudanese cameraman, Sami al-Haj, who works for the pan-Arab broadcaster, Al-Jazeera, has been held without trial since June 2002 at the US military base at Guantanamo, and Associated Press photographer, Bilal Hussein, has been held by US authorities in Iraq since April this year.”

In France, there has been a recent increase in police searches of media offices, plus attacks on journalists during violent demonstrations in French city suburbs 12 months ago.

Denmark (19th) dropped from joint first place because of serious threats against the authors of the ‘Mohammed cartoons’, published there in autumn last year. For the first time in recent years, in a country that is considered very observant of civil liberties, journalists had to have police protection due to threats against them because of their work.

Yemen (149th) slipped four places, mainly because of the arrest of several journalists and closure of newspapers that reprinted the cartoons. Journalists were harassed for the same reason in Algeria (126th), Jordan (109th), Indonesia (103rd) and India (105th).

But except for Yemen and Saudi Arabia (161st), all the Arab peninsula countries considerably improved their rank. Kuwait (73rd) kept its place at the top of the group, just ahead of the United Arab Emirates (77th) and Qatar (80th).

And two countries moved into the index’s top 20 for the first time. Bolivia (16th) was best-placed among less-developed countries and during the year its journalists enjoyed the same level of freedom as colleagues in Canada or Austria. Bosnia-Herzegovina (19th) continued its gradual rise up the index since the end of the war in ex-Yugoslavia and is now placed above its European Union member-state neighbours, Greece (32nd) and Italy (40th).

The index:

1 Finland
5 Czech Republic
6 Estonia
8 Slovakia
10 Hungary
14 Belgium
16 Austria
19 Bosnia and Herzegovina
Trinidad and Tobago
23 Benin
26 Namibia
27 Lithuania
United Kingdom
29 Costa Rica
30 Cyprus
31 South Korea
32 Greece
34 Ghana
35 Australia
39 Panama
40 Italy
41 El Salvador
43 Taiwan
44 South Africa
45 Cape Verde
Serbia and Montenegro
49 Chile
50 Israel
51 Japan
52 Dominican Republic
53 Botswana
United States of America
57 Uruguay
58 Fiji
62 Central African Republic
Cyprus (North)
66 Madagascar
68 Ecuador
69 Nicaragua
70 Burkina Faso
73 Congo
75 Brazil
76 Argentina
77 Mauritania
United Arab Emirates
80 Albania
82 Paraguay
83 Timor-Leste
84 Liberia
85 Moldova
86 Mongolia
87 Haiti
88 Tanzania
89 Georgia
90 Guatemala
91 Angola
92 Malaysia
93 Comoros
95 Niger
97 Morocco
98 Bhutan