December 2007

Worldwide press freedom index

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Reporters Without Borders for the sixth year in a row has come out with the Worldwide Press Freedom Index. Eritrea was ranked last for the first time, while G8 members, except Russia, recovered lost ground. Eritrea has replaced North Korea at the last place in an index measuring the level of press freedom in 169 countries throughout the world, according to the press release of Reporters Without Borders. It is claimed that the privately-owned press in Eritrea has been banished by the authoritarian President Issaias Afeworki and the few journalists who dare to criticise the regime have been thrown in prison.

Of the 20 countries at the bottom of the index, seven are Asian (Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Laos, Vietnam, China, Burma, and North Korea), five are African (Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Somalia and Eritrea), four are in the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, Palestinian Territories and Iran), three are former Soviet republics (Belarus, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan), and one is in the Americas (Cuba).

In the recent years, the Fourth Estate (i.e. the press) which is the symbol of democracy has attracted lot of bashing, censorships, regulations, controls and attacks by the State or the national governments. For e.g. the military junta's crackdown on the democratic institutions in Myanmar during 2007 has attracted the attention of various national governments, civil society organisations, donor agencies, and most importantly the civilians.

All of the European Union member countries made it into the top 50 except Bulgaria (51st) and Poland (56th). After falling steadily in the index for the past three years, the G8 members have recovered a few places. Some non-European countries have made their first appearance in the top 50. They are Mauritania (50th), which has climbed 88 places since 2004, Uruguay (37th) and Nicaragua (47th). Several countries fell in the ranking this year because of serious, repeated violations of the free flow of online news and information. In Malaysia (124th), Thailand (135th), Vietnam (162nd) and Egypt (146th), for example, bloggers were arrested and news websites were closed or made inaccessible.

Reporters Without Borders compiled this index by sending a questionnaire to the 15 freedom of expression organisations throughout the world that are its partners, to its network of 130 correspondents, and to journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists. It contained 50 questions about press freedom in their countries. The index covers 169 nations. Other countries were not included because of lack of data.  

Source: Reporters Without Borders, http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=24025

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