The Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index ranks the performance of 180 countries according to a range of criteria that include media pluralism and independence, respect for the safety and freedom of journalists, and the legislative, institutional and infrastructural environment in which the media operate.
Top of the list, as so often, are three Scandinavian countries: Finland, which has been in first place for five years in succession, followed by Norway and Denmark. At the other end of the scale, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea, in last place, were the worst performers. France is ranked 38th (up one place), the United States 49th (down three places), Japan 61st (down two places), Brazil 99 (up 12 places), Russia 152 (down four places), Iran 173rd (unchanged) and China 176th (down one place).
Also Turkey shares with China the title of the number one country where most journalists are in prison.
The 2015 World Press Freedom Index highlights the worldwide deterioration in freedom of information in 2014. Beset by wars, the growing threat from non-state operatives, violence during demonstrations and the economic crisis, media freedom is in retreat on all five continents.
Norway’s Position in the Index by Year
The indicators compiled by Reporters Without Borders are incontestable. There was a drastic decline in freedom of information in 2014. Two-thirds of the 180 countries surveyed for the 2015 World Press Freedom Index performed less well than in the previous year. The annual global indicator, which measures the overall level of violations of freedom of information in 180 countries year by year, has risen to 3,719, an 8 percent increase over 2014 and almost 10 percent compared with 2013. The decline affected all continents.
The European Union-Balkans region is in the lead by far, but nonetheless recorded the biggest fall between the 2014 and 2015 editions. This disturbing trend reflects a two-fold phenomenon: the excesses of some member countries on the one hand and the inability of EU mechanisms to contain them on the other. The region that is bottom of the freedom of information list, North Africa and the Middle East, this year once again contained information “black holes”. Comprising entire regions, these are controlled by non-state groups in which independent information simply does not exist.
Surprising Decline in Western Countries
Western Europe saw numerous countries in decline. Italy (73rd) fell 24 places after a difficult year for journalists for whom threats from the mafia, among others, and unjustified defamation suits, skyrocketed. Iceland (21st, down 13) paid the price of worsening relations between politicians and media. The drop was an alarm call for this “model of democracy”.
Pressure on independent media continued to intensify in Russia (152nd, down 4), with another string of draconian laws, website blocking and independent news outlets either brought under control or throttled out of existence. The repressive climate encouraged some local despots to step up their persecution of critics.
In the Caucasus, Azerbaijan (162nd, down 2) suffered an unprecedented crackdown on critics and registered the biggest fall in score among the index’s 25 lowest-ranking countries. With media freedom already limited by one-sided regulation and control of the advertising market, the few remaining independent publications were either collapsing under the impact of astronomic damages awards or were simply closed by the police. The number of journalists and bloggers who were jailed turned Azerbaijan into Europe’s biggest prison for news providers.
In the Americas, the United States (49th, down three places) continues its decline. In 2014, the New York Times journalist James Risen came under government pressure to reveal his sources. Although the Obama administration backed away in that case, it continues its war on information in others, such as WikiLeaks.