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RSF releases 2006 World Press Freedom Index

IFEX - News from the international freedom of expression community


PRESS RELEASE - INTERNATIONAL

24 October 2006

RSF releases 2006 World Press Freedom Index

SOURCE: Reporters sans frontières (RSF), Paris

(RSF/IFEX) - The following is an abridged RSF press release:

WORLDWIDE PRESS FREEDOM INDEX 2006

North Korea, Turkmenistan, Eritrea, the worst violators of press freedom
France and the United States slip further
Aggressive regimes in Africa and slow progress

New countries have moved ahead of some Western democracies in the fifth annual Reporters Without Borders Worldwide Press Freedom Index, issued today, while the most repressive countries are still the same ones.

"Unfortunately nothing has changed in the countries that are the worst predators of press freedom," the organisation said, "and journalists in North Korea, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, Cuba, Burma and China are still risking their life or imprisonment for trying to keep us informed. These situations are extremely serious and it is urgent that leaders of these countries accept criticism and stop routinely cracking down on the media so harshly.

"Each year new countries in less-developed parts of the world move up the Index to positions above some European countries or the United States. This is good news and shows once again that, even though very poor, countries can be very observant of freedom of expression. Meanwhile the steady erosion of press freedom in the United States, France and Japan is extremely alarming," Reporters Without Borders said.

The three worst violators of free expression - North Korea, bottom of the Index at 168th place, Turkmenistan (167th) and Eritrea (166th) - have clamped down further. The torture death of Turkmenistan journalist Ogulsapar Muradova shows that the country's leader, "President-for-Life" Separmurad Nyazov, is willing to use extreme violence against those who dare to criticise him. Reporters Without Borders is also extremely concerned about a number of Eritrean journalists who have been imprisoned in secret for more than five years. The all-powerful North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, also continues to totally control the media.

Press freedom is genuine is Benin (23rd), Namibia (26th), Mauritius (32nd), Ghana (34th), Mali (35th), South Africa (44th) and Cape Verde (45th) and comparable to that in Western democracies. It does not exist or is constantly under attack in Eritrea (166th), Gambia (149th), Somalia (144th), Democratic Republic of Congo (142nd), Zimbabwe (140th) and Equatorial Guinea (137th). The same African countries have featured at the top and bottom of the Index for several years.

Northern European countries once again come at the top of the Index, with no recorded censorship, threats, intimidation or physical reprisals recorded in Finland, Ireland, Iceland and the Netherlands, which all share first place.

Deterioration in the United States and Japan, with France also slipping

The United States (53rd) has fallen nine places since last year, after being in 17th position in the first year of the Index, in 2002. Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of "national security" to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his "war on terrorism." The zeal of federal courts, which, unlike those in 33 states, refuse to recognise the media's right not to reveal its sources, threatens even journalists whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism.

Freelance journalist and blogger Josh Wolf was imprisoned when he refused to hand over his video archives. Sudanese cameraman Sami al-Haj, who works for the pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera, has been held without trial since June 2002 at the US military base at Guantanamo, and Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein has been held by US authorities in Iraq since April this year.

France (35th) slipped five places during the past year, losing 24 places overall in five years. The increase in searches of media offices and journalists' homes is very worrying for media organisations and trade unions. Autumn 2005 was an especially bad time for French journalists, several of whom were physically attacked or threatened during a trade union dispute involving privatisation of the Corsican firm SNCM and during violent demonstrations in French city suburbs in November.

Rising nationalism and the system of exclusive press clubs (kishas) threatened democratic gains in Japan, which fell 14 places to 51st. The newspaper Nihon Keizai was firebombed and several journalists physically attacked by far-right activists (uyoku).

Fallout from the row over the "Mohammed cartoons"

Denmark (19th) dropped from joint first place because of serious threats against the authors of the Mohammed cartoons published there in autumn 2005. For the first time in recent years in a country that is very observant of civil liberties, journalists had to have police protection due to threats against them because of their work.

Yemen (149th) slipped four places, mainly because of the arrest of several journalists and closure of newspapers that reprinted the cartoons. Journalists were harassed for the same reason in Algeria (126th), Jordan (109th), Indonesia (103rd) and India (105th).

But except for Yemen and Saudi Arabia (161st), all the Arab peninsula countries considerably improved their rank. Kuwait (73rd) kept its place at the top of the group, just ahead of the United Arab Emirates (77th) and Qatar (80th).

Newcomers to the top ranks

Two countries moved into the Index's top 20 for the first time. Bolivia (16th) was best-placed among less-developed countries and during the year its journalists enjoyed the same level of freedom as colleagues in Canada or Austria. But the growing polarisation between state-run and privately-owned media and between supporters and opponents of President Evo Morales could complicate the situation. Bosnia-Herzegovina (19th) continued its gradual rise up the Index since the end of the war in ex-Yugoslavia and is now placed above its European Union member-state neighbours Greece (32nd) and Italy (40th).

Ghana (34th) rose 32 places to become fourth in Africa behind the continent's three traditional leaders - Benin (23rd), Namibia (26th) and Mauritius (32nd). Economic conditions are still difficult for the Ghanaian media but it is no longer threatened by the authorities.

Panama (39th) is enjoying political peace which has helped the growth of a free and vigorous media and the country moved up 27 places over the year.

Read the full report: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=19388

ENDS

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