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World Press Freedom Index 2017 released

Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based media rights group, released its 2017 World Press Freedom Index on Wednesday, stating that globally “media freedom has never been so threatened.”

In past one year, the index highlighted press freedoms declined in democratic countries. Pakistan, Sweden, Burma, Laos and Philippines improved its index ranking in comparison to last year. The decliners were Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Maldives and Uzbekistan, according to index.

In its commentary, RWB stated: “Government officials, political parties, and party activists are also quick to harass, threaten, or physically attack journalists regarded as unsympathetic to their views”, due to which self-censorship is on the rise within news organisations.

It also stated that Pakistani media has been targeted by extremist groups, religious organisations, and the feared ‘intelligence agencies’. However, it added, the number of fatal attacks has dropped over the past four years.

World Press Freedom Index used term ‘strongmen’ for the media-controlling countries including Turkey, Philippines, US and stated ‘we have reached the age of post-truth, propaganda, and suppression of freedoms - especially in democracies.”

RWB has also released an analysis, tilted “Journalism weakened by democracy’s erosion”, which gave reasons for the decline of democracies in the index as obsession with surveillance and violations of the right to the confidentiality of sources. This includes the United States (down 2 places at 43rd), the United Kingdom (down 2 at 40th), Chile (down 2 at 33rd), and New Zealand (down 8 at 13th).

Media bashing also comes into limelight, with US President Donald Trump and Brexit campaign in UK marked as high-profile media bashing which is equally read as anti-media discourse. “The hate speech used by the new boss in the White House and his accusations of lying also helped to disinhibit attacks on the media almost everywhere in the world, including in democratic countries.” RWB stated.

In the Freedom Index, Turkey after a failed coup against Recep Tayyip Erdogan down four positions and stands at 155th. Turkey termed in RWB’s analysis as ‘world’s biggest prison for media professionals.’ Russia remains at bottom fifth of the Index at 148th. Afghanistan is at 120th.

“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,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Where will this downward spiral take us?”

The top position has been taken by Norway (up 2 at 1st) and it is pertinent to note that Norway is not a European Union member. North Korea (180th) scored last position in the index - a country where according to RWB ‘even listening to a foreign radio broadcast can lead to a spell in a concentration camp.’

The Index’s bottom five also include Turkmenistan (178th), Syria (177th) that has been going through a never ending war and still the deadliest country for journalists targeted by both Syrian leader and rebels.

Media freedom has never been so threatened and RSF’s “global indicator” has never been so high (3872). In the past year, nearly two thirds (62.2%) of the countries measured have registered a deterioration in their situation, while the number of countries where the media freedom situation was “good” or “fairly good” fell by 2.3%.

In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, nearly two third of the countries are ranked below or around the 150th mark in the Index, the RWB stated.

In Asia-Pacific region, China (176th) and Vietnam (175th) are the world’s biggest prisons for journalists and bloggers. RWB terms Pakistan (139th), Philippines (127th) and Bangladesh (146th).

It is highlighted that in African countries, internet is now routinely disconnected at election time and during major protests. While in Latin America, Cuba (down 2 at 173rd) the only country in the ‘black zone’ of the Index.

The European Union and Balkans indicator rose 17.5% over the past five years. During the same period, the Asia-Pacific indicator increased by only 0.9%. The Paris-based media watchdog group said its own country France has risen six places to 39th position and termed, “It is a country where journalists struggle to defend their independence in an increasingly violent and hostile environment.” It however welcomed a new law on media independence in France with concerns.

Source: The Nation