There has been a deep and disturbing decline in respect for media freedom at both the global and regional levels, notes Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF) in their 2016 edition of the annual World Press Freedom Index, published on 20 April.
The Index shows media violations increased by 3.75 percent in 2016, going from 3,719 points last year to 3,857 points this year. Reporters without Borders lamented that overall level of media freedom violations, calculated in each of the world’s regions and globally, has fallen by 13.6 percent since 2013.
Authoritarian tendencies pursued by some governments, tightening of control over state-media in some places and the fraught and sometimes total breakdown of security situations in some nations were among the reasons cited by RSF for this decline in media freedom around the world.
Warning that the survival of independent news coverage is increasingly becoming precarious, RSF said that threats to press freedom came from various quarters, including from large-scale propaganda machines and ideologies, especially those religious ideologies hostile to media freedom.
The report also indicates the excessive influence that vested interests have in news coverage with ‘oligarchs’ throughout the world buying up media outlets and exercising control that further intensifies the pressure already coming from governments.
The 2016 World Press Freedom Index reveals an across the board decline in all indicators of media freedom. This is especially the case for infrastructure, which fell 16 percent from 2013 to 2016, with authorities cracking down on media outlets they dislike by targeting their premises, including printing presses and broadcast equipment.
Legislative framework also registered an equally marked decline. Many laws have been adopted penalizing journalists on such charges as ‘insulting the head of state’, ‘blasphemy’ or ‘supporting terrorism’. As a result of this alarming situation, there has been a growing trend towards self-censorship with the ‘media environment and self-censorship’ indicator falling by more than 10 percent from 2013 to 2016.
Another highlight in the Index is that this decline in overall media freedom is widespread, with scores on every continent showing a fall. The Americas have plunged 20.5 percent, mainly as a result of the impact of physical attacks and murders targeting journalists in Mexico and Central America. Europe and the Balkans declined 6.5 percent, primarily because of the growing influence of extremist movements and ultraconservative governments. Similarly, the already bad score in Central Asia/Eastern Europe region deteriorated further by 5 percent as a result of the increasingly glacial environment for media freedom and free speech in countries with authoritarian regimes.
Three north European countries top the rankings in press freedom for 2016. Finland came in first place, the country has retained this rank since 2010; Netherlands came in 2nd (up 2 places from 2015) and Norway came in third (down 1 place since last year). The countries that fell by the most places since 2015 were: Poland, which dropped to 47th (down 29), Tajikistan, which plunged to 150th place (down 34) and the Sultanate of Brunei in155th position (down 34). At the bottom of the rankings were the same trio that occupied those positions last year, namely, Turkmenistan (178th), North Korea (179th) and Eritrea (180th).
Underlining the importance of guaranteeing the public’s right to independent and reliable news and information, RSF says that this is essential if humankind’s problems, both local and global, are to be solved effectively. Sadly, the index reiterates the fact that independent journalism continues to be fettered by a growing clampdown from ever more authoritarian and oppressive governments. Meanwhile, the integrity of journalists has also come in for scrutiny, with many privately-owned media often shaping reports to promote their personal interests.
Though the Index is not an indicator of the quality of the journalism in each country, its influence over the media, governments and international organizations is growing. In its conclusion to this year’s index, RSF warns that if journalism is to remain relevant and independent then it needs to be defended against clampdowns by authorities, as well as from the increase in propaganda and mad-to-order media content sponsored by vested interests.
Published by RSF annually since 2002, the World Press Freedom Index is an important advocacy tool that measures the level of freedom available to journalists in 180 countries. The measurements are based on the following criteria: pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative environment, transparency, infrastructure, and abuses.