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    « Beijing's Latest Threat: 'Consequences' For Countries Which Attend Nobel Ceremony | Main | San Francisco To Ban Toys With 'Happy Meals' »

    2010 Press Freedom Report: Northern Europe Still The Best Place For Journalism

    Paris based RSF (Reporters Sans Frontières or Reporters Without Borders), a leading global NGO on the issue of freedom of speech, last month released the 2010 Press Freedom Index ratings for 178 countries around the world (expressed as ratings for 2011). 

    RSF has expressed concerns about declining press freedom in EU. RSF says: "Thirteen of the EU’s 27 members are in the top 20 but some of the other 14 are very low in the ranking. Italy is 49th, Romania is 52nd and Greece and Bulgaria are tied at 70th. The European Union is not a homogenous whole as regards media freedom. On the contrary, the gap between good and bad performers continues to widen. There has been no progress in several countries where Reporters Without Borders pointed out problems. They include, above all, France and Italy, where events of the past year – violation of the protection of journalists’ sources, the continuing concentration of media ownership, displays of contempt and impatience on the part of government officials towards journalists and their work, and judicial summonses – have confirmed their inability to reverse this trend."

    However there is good news in Europe, as most of the northern Europe is at the top of the chart, indicating significant political and societal support for freedom of expression for reporters. Finland, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland; all share the #1 spot on the list. RSF says : "These six countries set an example in the way they respect journalists and news media and protect them from judicial abuse. They even continue to progress. Iceland, for example, is considering an exemplary bill, the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI), that would provide a unique level of protection for the media. Sweden distinguishes itself by its Press Freedom Act, which has helped to create a particularly favourable climate for the work of journalists, by the strength of its institutions and by its respect for all those sectors of society including the media whose role in a democracy is to question and challenge those in positions of power."

    As far as the other (shameful) end of the spectrum, RSF says: "Freedom is not allowed any space in Burma (ranked #174 out of 178), where a parliamentary election is due to be held next month (this month on November 7th), and the rare attempts to provide news or information are met with imprisonment and forced labour. Finally, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Mexico, countries either openly at war or in a civil war or some other kind of internal conflict, we see a situation of permanent chaos and a culture of violence and impunity taking root in which the press has become a favourite target. These are among the most dangerous countries in the world, and the belligerents there pick directly on reporters such as French TV journalists Stéphane Taponier and Hervé Ghesquière, who have been held hostage in Afghanistan for the past 300 days."

    RSF report further adds that economic growth unfortunately does not always correspond with freedom of expression. RSF says: "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."

    Fully functional, independent, and competent media is the backbone of any viable democracy. In many parts of the world reporters, writers, bloggers who stand up for truth, justice, and public interest, face persecution and even risk their lives. Back in September, Canadian-Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan, who has blogged extensively against the Iranian dictators (he blogged from Toronto where he lived) was sentenced by Iran (after being arrested while visiting family in Tehran) to the toughest sentence ever given to a blogger (19.5 years in prison), followed by a 5 year ban on political and journalistic activities and was fined more than $42,500. The very next month in October another Iranian blogger, Hossein Ronaghi Maleki, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. (Iran is ranked #175 on the RSF list.)

    China has imprisoned several reporters and bloggers for just referencing 'Tiananmen Square massacre' (for more on PRC's media censorship read here and here). PRC's official news agency - Xinhua - is a mockery of journalism. Any agency that receives daily faxes from the Propaganda Department on what to report and then merely reproduces those 'faxes' verbatim as 'news', should not call itself a 'news agency'.  

    Just in 2010, 120 journalists have been killed, while 155 journalists and 112 bloggers have been imprisoned worldwide. These numbers are only based on officially reported and investigated cases, so the real count is likely to be much higher. The only comfort one can find in these numbers is that the commitment to truth and heroism aren't dead yet. There are still people left in this world who cannot be intimidated, who will not compromise their integrity and their principles for shallow personal gains, who are willing to risk everything including their freedom and their lives, if that's what it takes to do the right thing. 

    Here's a map of the world from RSF that provides a visual clue to the state of press freedom around the world:

    ~ Gauri

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