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Image: Reporters Without Borders

Authoritarians Like Trump Pushing Global Press Freedoms to 'Tipping Point'

"Where will this downward spiral take us?" asks Reporters Without Borders in latest annual report

Andrea Germanos

"Media freedom is under threat now more than ever," Reporters Without Borders said in its latest World Press Freedom Index, adding that these freedoms may now be at "a tipping point."

The updated global indicator of the press freedoms journalists have reveals a grim situation, as almost two-thirds of the list of 180 countries have worsened. The 2017 index "reflects a world in which attacks on the media have become commonplace and strongmen are on the rise," the Paris-based watchdog, which goes by its French acronym RSF, states.

Violating those freedoms is not limited to dictatorships, the group notes.

Take the United States, which sits at 43 on the list—a two-point drop since 2016.

The new report says that President Donald Trump has presented an "obstacle" to press freedom," and "set off a witchhunt against journalists." The group notes that he's called the press an "enemy of the American people" and blocked White House access from major news organizations. RSF also notes that the Trump administration follows one that took an unprecedented attack on whistleblowers.

The U.K. also dropped two points and now comes in at 40. It saw its share of "press bashing" during its so-called Brexit campaign, while the Investigatory Powers Act and proposed new Espionage Act threaten journalists and whistleblowers.

France fares a bit better on the index, coming in at number 39. While that number marks a six-point climb since the 2016 index, RSF says the rise is "deceptive," as it's due to the "bounce-back" effect from the lower rating  incurred in 2015 as a result of the Charlie Hebdo attack. The index also notes that "there has been an increase in police violence against reporters covering demonstrations against the labor law and the dismantling of the 'jungle' at Calais. The run-up to the 2017 presidential election has seen growing hostility towards journalists from political parties and the public."

"The democracies that have traditionally regarded media freedom as one of the foundations on which they are built must continue to be a model for the rest of the world, and not the opposite," stated RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire. "By eroding this fundamental freedom on the grounds of protecting their citizens, the democracies are in danger of losing their souls."

"The rate at which democracies are approaching the tipping point is alarming for all those who understand that, if media freedom is not secure, then none of the other freedoms can be guaranteed," Deloire added. "Where will this downward spiral take us?"

The RSF report also shows a "darker" map, as 21 countries—up three from last year—are now coded black, indicating "very bad" in terms of press freedoms. And 51—up from 49 last year—are now classified as red, meaning the press freedom situation is "bad."

Ranking dead last on the list is North Korea, where the "totalitarian regime continues to keep its citizens in a state of ignorance and fear of being sent to a concentration camp for listening to radio broadcasts from outside the country." Another on the black list is Syria, the deadliest country in the world for journalists. "Professional and citizen-journalists alike are now caught between the various parties to the conflict—both the regime and its allies and the various armed opposition groups including the Kurds and Jihadi fighters such as Islamic State," the press freedom group states.

Nordic countries are at the opposite end of the index, with Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland coming in at the top four spots.

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