The United States ranks number 17 for press freedom, below most Western European
countries and Costa Rica, according to a new global index drawn up by journalists,
researchers, and legal scholars and released by Reporters
Without Borders (RSF) last week.
The survey, which covers 139 countries, found that Nordic countries were the best performers. Based on responses to some 50 questions, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and the Netherlands all tied for the top spot. They were followed by Canada, Ireland, Germany Portugal, Sweden, and Denmark to round out the top 10.
At the other end of the list, Communist states and a number of Arab countries
were found to be among the worst offenders, with North Korea ranked at the bottom,
preceded by China, Burma, Turkmenistan, Bhutan, Cuba, Laos, Eritrea, Vietnam,
and Iraq in that order.
In these countries, according to the report, the only media voice is that approved by the government. In such countries, those who may aspire to act as independent journalists are harassed, imprisoned, or forced into exile, according to the report, which added these are also countries where the foreign media is either banned or closely monitored.
Altogether, Arab and Asian countries generally did substantially worse in honoring press freedoms than those in Europe, the Americas, and Africa, according to the survey, the first index that focuses entirely on the status of the independent press.
The Paris-based international press watchdog--also known by its French name Reporters Sans Frontières--said the U.S. received its relatively low ranking in part due to arrests of reporters for failing to reveal their sources or, since the September 11 terrorist attacks, for crossing security lines at some official buildings.
In the past year, the administration of President George W. Bush has also pressed
media outlets not to run unedited videos or transcripts of al-Qaeda leaders, while
military commanders in Afghanistan have restricted the movements of reporters
there and, in at least one case, threatened a newspaper correspondent, according
to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Aside from the top 10, France, Australia, Belgium, Slovenia, and Costa Rica were all ranked ahead of the U.S., while Hong Kong, Greece, Ecuador, and Benin, which tied with Britain and Uruguay, held the 18-21 spots.
Costa Rica topped the list among all developing countries, as well as all Latin American countries. Its high ranking was due not only to its long-standing democratic traditions, but also the fact that last year it repealed a law common to much of Latin America that prescribes prison sentences for anyone convicted of "insulting" public officials.
After Ecuador, other Latin American countries ranked by the survey included
Uruguay (21), Chile (24), Paraguay (32), El Salvador (33), Peru (36), Argentina
(42), Bolivia (48), Panama (49), Brazil (54), Mexico (75), Guatemala (83), Haiti
(106), Colombia (114), and Cuba (134). English-speaking countries in the Caribbean
were not covered.
The worst performer in Western Europe was Italy at 40, after Peru, Bulgaria,
and South Korea. RSF said that news diversity is under "serious threat" in Italy,
in major part due to pressures exerted by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who
is also the head of one of Europe's biggest privately-owned media empires.
Other European countries with problems included the Czech Republic (41), Romania (45), Turkey (99) Ukraine (112), Russia (121), and Belarus (124).
Benin topped the list in Africa, followed by South Africa (26), Namibia (31), Mauritius (36), Mali (43), Cape Verde (46), Senegal (47) Nigeria (49), Uganda (52), and Niger (53). At the opposite end, Eritrea--which outlawed the independent press after September 11, 2001--ranked 132, preceded by Zimbabwe (122), Equatorial Guinea (117), Mauritania (115), and Democratic Republic of the Congo (113).
The highest ranking, besides Hong Kong, in Asia went to Japan (26), followed by Taiwan (35), South Korea (39), Sri Lanka (51), Indonesia (57) and Thailand (65). Besides the seven Asian countries ranked among the worst 10, Nepal (127), Pakistan (119), Bangladesh (118), Kazakhstan (116) Brunei (111), Malaysia (110), Afghanistan (104), and the Philippines (89) were the worst performing in Asia, according to the survey, which placed India at 80.
The Middle East and North Africa did little better with the top ranking going to Lebanon at 56, followed by Bahrain (67), Kuwait (78), the Palestinian National Authority (82), Morocco (89), Israel (92), Algeria (95), Jordan (99), Egypt (101), Yemen (103), Iran (122), Saudi Arabia (125), Syria (126), and Libya (129), just ahead of Iraq in the 130 position.
Israel's relatively low ranking, according to RSF, was due primarily to the army's operations in the occupied territories since March.
© 2002 OneWorld.net