Press Freedom 2009: EU In Decline, Israel In Free Fall And Iran Close To Bottom
The French organization Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres ) released its annual report, which is based on questionnaires that are completed by hundreds of journalists, news organizations and media experts. The 2009 press freedom index survey reflects violations that occurred between 9/1/2008 and 8/31/2009.
“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter,” wrote Thomas Jefferson. Among men of power, Jefferson was the exception confirming the rule, as he understood very clearly that no real democratic process is possible without a free press. Press freedom is still trampled on across the world on a daily basis, and Reporters Without Borders has made it a mission to report it.
The countries fairing best in the press freedom index 2009 (ranked top 10) were: Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Iceland and Lithuania. The nations who had the worst index and ranked at the very bottom were: Eritrea, North-Korea, Turkmenistan, Iran, Burma, Cuba, Laos, China and Yemen.
“Press freedom must be defended everywhere in the world with the same energy and the same insistence. It is disturbing to see European democracies such as France, Italy and Slovakia fall steadily in the ranking year after year. Europe should be setting an example in regards of civil liberties. How can you condemn human rights violations abroad if you do not behave irreproachably at home? The “Obama effect”, which has enabled the United States to recover 16 places in the index is not enough to reassure us,” said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-Francois Julliard.
Europe: Still in the Lead but in Decline
Europe has a long track record of setting an example in terms of freedom of the press, but in 2009 several European countries have taken a drop in the index. Even if the first 13 places are still held by European countries, others such as France (43 RD) Slovakia (44TH) and Italy (49 TH) continue their precipitous descent towards the middle of the index. Journalists have been physically threatened in Italy and Spain (45 TH ), but also in the Balkans, especially in Croatia (78 TH).
Israel: Media Crackdown
From 2008 to 2009, Israel dropped 47 places in the index to 93 RD position. Israel is not the highest ranking country in the Middle-East anymore, the Jewish state ranked behind Kuwait (60 TH), United Arab Emirates (86 TH) and Lebanon (61 ST).
According to Reporters Without Borders, Israel has begun to use the same methods internally as it does outside its own territory. Five arrests of journalists were reported last year, some of them completely illegal, and three cases of imprisonment. The fact that military censorship applies to all media constitutes a threat to freedom of the press and journalists. As far as extraterritorial actions by Israel, three journalists were killed and 20 were seriously injured by the Israeli army in the Gaza strip last year.
Iran: At The Gate of The “Infernal Trio”
Reporters Without Borders notes that Iran is now “at the gate of the infernal trio”. Automatic censorship, state surveillance of journalists, control over the internet, and illegal arrests and imprisonment have been the common practice of Ahmadinejad’s regime even more since the contested election of June 2009. Iran just like Eritrea (175 TH) North-Korea (174 TH) and Turkmenistan is now at the very bottom of the index where the media are so suppressed that they are non-existent.
In regards to the “Obama effect” or the ranking rise of the United States from 36 TH in 2008 to 20TH in 2009, Reporters Without Borders observes:
“Barack Obama’s election as president, and the fact that he has a less hawkish approach than his predecessor have had a lot to do with this. But this sharp rise concerns only the state of the press freedom within the US. President Obama may have been awarded the Nobel peace prize, but his country is still fighting two wars. Despite a slight improvement, the attitude of the US towards the media in Iraq and Afghanistan is worrying. Several journalists were injured or arrested by the US military. One, Ibrahim Jassam, is still being held in Iraq.”
To read the complete Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index click here.
Editor’s Note: Photograph by Gilbert Mercier.