Watchdog Says Media Freedom in Europe Plummeting
By Selah Hennessy
20 October 2009

The media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has released its annual press freedom index. Several prominent European countries have slid down the ranking while the United States has made significant moves forward. Some African countries are also shooting up the rankings.

Media Freedom report atacks on the press

Vincent Brossel from Reporters Without Borders says Europe should be setting an example of strong civil liberties around the world, but in many European countries press freedom is moving backwards.

"Important countries in Europe like Italy or France or Spain have really, have lost all their ranks especially because of intervention by the chief of states, like [Italian Prime Minister] Berlusconi or [French President] Mr. Sarkozy but also because of different attitudes by the police on the interference of work on the journalists," Brossel said.

France is in 43rd (place) in this year's index and Italy has finished 49th. Slovakia, in Central Europe, has fallen 37 places coming in at 44th place.

The index is compiled on the basis of questionnaires completed by hundreds of journalists and media experts around the world. This is the eighth such index the watchdog has published and covers the period between September 1, 2008 and August 31, 2009.

The United States has climbed 20 places in the ranking. Brossel says this seems to be a result of United States President Barack Obama's leadership.

"There is already a Barack Obama affect on the U.S. ranking. It means that several decisions by the new administration made possible that the United States has recovered twenty places in the index," Brossel said.

But he says the U.S. attitude towards press freedom outside its own borders is still worrying. Reporters Without Borders data shows that several journalists were injured or arrested by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to the index, the African country Eritrea is, for the third year running, the worst country in the world for press freedom. Reporters Without Borders says right now 30 journalists are in prison in the country.

Somalia also came in the bottom 20. Brossel says Somalia is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists, with six journalists killed last year.

"Somalia has private media and is still generally trying to inform the people but there is a huge violence and chaos that is creating [a] very dramatic situation for the journalist," Brossel said.

But some African countries are moving up the list. Brossel says following a power sharing deal in Zimbabwe, the country's press freedom has improved sharply.

"That is very encouraging because it means that when there is political will to improve the situation it is absolutely possible to get developing countries with a good ranking," Brossel said.

The European countries Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Norway and Sweden have all tied for first place in the index.

Iran came in fourth from the bottom. Reporters Without Borders says journalists in the country are suffering more than ever this year. It says after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed reelection the regime has become paranoid about journalists and bloggers.

At the bottom following Eritrea is Turkmenistan and North Korea.