The organisation Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is warning that violations of press freedom are no longer the practice of authoritarian regimes and dictatorships.
The Paris-based group said in its 2017 World Press Freedom Index, released today, that the climate of hatred is steadily becoming more visible in the index, which evaluates the level of press freedom in 180 countries each year.
More and more democratically-elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but as an adversary to which they openly display their aversion. The United States, the country of the First Amendment, has fallen again in the Index under Donald Trump, this time two places to 45th. A media-bashing enthusiast, Trump has referred to reporters “enemies of the people,” the term once used by Joseph Stalin.
“Hostility towards the media from political leaders is no longer limited to authoritarian countries such as Turkey (down two at 157th) and Egypt (161st), where ‘mediaphobia’ is now so pronounced that journalists are routinely accused of terrorism and all those who don’t offer loyalty are arbitrarily imprisoned,” the report said.
“More and more democratically elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning but as an adversary to which they openly display their aversion,” it added.
Verbal violence from politicians against the media is also on the rise in Europe, although it is the region that respects press freedom most. In the Czech Republic (down 11 at 34th), President Milos Zeman turned up at a press conference with a fake Kalashnikov inscribed with the words “for journalists.” In Slovakia, (down 10 at 27th), then Prime Minister Robert Fico called journalists “filthy anti-Slovak prostitutes” and “idiotic hyenas.” A Slovak reporter, Ján Kuciak, was shot dead in his home in February 2018, just four months after another European journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, was killed by a targeted car-bombing in Malta (down 18 at 65th).
Norway and Sweden placed first and second, respectively, for the second consecutive year, while North Korea remained last.
RSF said the index also reflects the growing influence of “strongmen,” who are beginning to reach across borders.
“After stifling independent voices at home, Vladimir Putin’s Russia (148th) is extending its propaganda network by means of media outlets such as RT and Sputnik, while Xi Jinping’s China (176th) is exporting its tightly controlled news and information model in Asia,” the report said.
“Their relentless suppression of criticism and dissent provides support to other countries near the bottom of the index, such as Vietnam (175th), Turkmenistan (178th), and Azerbaijan (163rd),” it added.
Meanwhile, former Soviet republics and Turkey are at the forefront of the decline worldwide, RSF said, with almost two-thirds of the region’s countries ranking near or below 150.
This includes Kyrgyzstan (98th), which registered one of the index’s biggest falls at nine places, after a year with a great deal of harassment of the media including “astronomic fines for insulting the head of state.”
“In light of such a wretched performance, it is no surprise that the region’s overall indicator is close to reaching that of Middle East/North Africa,” the report said.
“When it’s not despots, it’s war that helps turn countries into news and information black holes – countries such as Iraq (down two at 160th), which this year joined those at the very bottom of the index where the situation is classified as ‘very bad.’ There have never been so many countries that are colored black on the press freedom map,” it added.
RSF’s index gave the following rankings to other countries in the former Soviet Union, the Balkans, South Asia, and the Middle East: Georgia 61, Bosnia-Herzegovina 62, Croatia 69, Serbia 76, Kosovo 78, Armenia 80, Moldova 81, Ukraine 101, Montenegro 103, Macedonia 109, Afghanistan 118, Pakistan 139, Tajikistan 149, Belarus 155, Kazakhstan 158, Iran 164, and Uzbekistan 165.