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Reporters Without Borders: Press Freedom Deteriorating Worldwide

By: Pedro García Otero - Feb 16, 2015, 10:11 am

EspañolPress freedom around the world is on the decline, and in Latin America, the rights of journalists are now “endangered.” This according to the 2015 World Press Freedom Index from Reporters Without Borders (RWB), which analyzed the ongoing risks journalists face throughout the world, including threats of violence and assaults.

RWB recognizes Canada as the country in the region with the greatest press freedom, ranking eighth and rising 10 places in the index in 2014. Cuba, on the other hand, is the least free country in the region, ranking 169 out of the 180 nations in the index.

Mexico moved up four places on the list to 148, despite the growing risk of organized crime. The most significant drop in press freedom in the region in 2014 was seen in Venezuela, falling 20 places to 137 in the overall ranking.

The Data

RWB compiles its yearly index based on its own observations throughout the world, as well as an 87-question survey sent to its partner organizations, network of correspondents, researchers, jurists, and human rights defenders. The France-based NGO uses the data to create a map of global press freedom: white indicates the best situations, while red and black mark the worst.

RWB has used seven criteria to form its index since 2013: pluralism, media independence, environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, infrastructure, and abuses.

Darker colors mean more danger for journalists on the RWB map of global press freedom.
Darker colors mean more danger for journalists on the RWB map of global press freedom. (RSF)

After Jamaica, the highest rated countries in the Americas are Costa Rica (16) and Uruguay (23). The United States lags behind with regard to press freedom, dropping three places to 49 on the list. Chile, coming in at 43, had the most significant rise in Latin America, climbing 15 places this year.

After Venezuela, the sharpest drop in the Americas was experienced in Ecuador, falling 13 places to 108 on the index, based on the country’s approval of the Organic Communication Law (LOC). RWB notes that the law was “supposed to democratize the media landscape and foster pluralism,” however “journalists and media are forced to issue corrections and are subjected to smear campaigns (usually on TV and directly orchestrated by President Rafael Correa).”

Global Threats

According to RWB, in 2014, 13 journalists were killed worldwide, while 164 were arrested. In addition, 13 media assistants and 178 “netizens” were also imprisoned.

In general, Europe maintains its position as the continent with the freest press, followed by the Americas. RWB, however, notes that threats to journalists are on the rise on every continent, especially in Africa and the Middle East.

With regard to South American, RWB points to Venezuela’s reaction to anti-government protests in February 2014. “The National Bolivarian Guard (national army) opened fire on journalists during demonstrations, although they were clearly identified as such.” In Ecuador, the NGO notes “the media are extremely polarized and, thanks to the threat of prosecution, self-censorship is now entrenched.”

The sharpest fall globally was seen in Andorra, which fell 27 places to 32nd in the ranking based on a “lack of independence of its media from financial, political and religious interests.” In Western Europe, journalists also experienced a difficult year in Italy, which fell 24 positions to 73. The index notes that “threats from the mafia, among others, and unjustified defamation suits, skyrocketed” for journalists in the country.

In sub-Saharan Africa, Congo (107), dropped 27 places after the government “stepped up its witch-hunt of critical journalists, at times resorting to extreme violence.”

The report also suggests that, in general, the richest countries around the world tend to have greater press freedom, and that Nordic countries currently enjoy the highest level of press freedom on the planet. In the same vein, politically and economically stable countries tend to have greater press freedom than those that are less stable.

However, RWB argues that cases such as China, Malaysia, and Mexico “serve as a reminder that some countries may offer stability to investors while performing terribly with regard to freedom of information.”

Finally, RWB notes that oil-exporting countries tend to have less freedom of the press and singles out Iran as “one of the world’s five biggest prisons for news and information providers, with 50 journalists and netizens currently detained.” In Russia, RWB says the Kremlin has continued its attack on independent media “with a string of draconian laws, website blocking, and leading independent news outlets either being brought under control or throttled out of existence.”

The report notes that the greatest threats to press freedom stem from military conflicts with non-state groups operating outside the law, such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, or ISIS in Syria, as well as the Italian mafia and drug cartels in Latin America. The NGO also suggests national security is used as a pretext to impose censorship, while dictatorial states find new and increasingly cruel ways to control information.

Translated by Rebeca Morla. Edited by Guillermo Jimenez.

Pedro García Otero Pedro García Otero

Pedro García is the Spanish managing editor of the PanAm Post. He is a Venezuelan journalist with over 25 years of experience in local newspapers, radio, television, and online media. Follow him @PedroGarciaO.