Press Freedom Declining Around the World
Every year Reporters Without Borders (RSF) compile an index of press freedom around the world. The index has been published since 2002 and measures the state of press freedom in 182 countries. It measures “the media freedom situation based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists in each country”. The data is compiled through a questionnaire (answered by experts around the globe) and combined with quantitative data on violence and abuses against journalists.
Freedom House lists 6 main threats against journalists:
- Organized crime
- Environment and land development (e.g. illegal mining or toxic dumps)
- Religion (both by extremists and by governments)
- Disputed sovereignty
- Lèse-majesté and beyond (laws against insulting state officials)
Compared to last year the index has dropped with -3.71% and compared to 2013 the decline in press freedom is at -13.6%. Oligarchs are buying up media and exercising their own interests upon the media reporting. Internet censorship in various forms is becoming more common. Normally Europe is considered a safe haven for journalism and free speech but a decline is under way even here. RSF says that
“Counter-espionage and counter-terrorist measures were misused. Laws were passed allowing mass surveillance. Conflicts of interest increased. Authorities tightened their grip on state media and sometimes privately owned media as well.”
Governments have increasingly moved towards more totalitarian attempts at controlling the press in various countries in Europe. Hungary has made changes earlier that “enable people at the top of the government to legally spy on all people that hold important public offices. In Serbia “the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) [is] putting political pressure on journalists”. In Macedonia “65 percent of 300 respondents interviewed said they had been subject to censorship, and 53 percent said they practice self-censorship”, there has also been a large wiretapping scandal. Even Sweden (ranked 5th in 2015 and 8th in 2016) is becoming increasingly unsafe; a third of the journalists have been threatened, according to a recent poll.
However, one of the highest deterioration of Press Freedom for 2015 was in Poland. Their decrease in the index was -11.18 points resulting in a decline with 29 places in the ranking worldwide.
“Shortly after winning the 2015 elections, the conservative Law and Justice party passed a media law empowering the government to appoint and dismiss the heads of the state radio and TV broadcast media. It took effect in January 2016. Under a second law being prepared, the contracts of all the employees of these media would be terminated. Alarmed to see a European Union member violate fundamental EU values, the European Commission launched a procedure designed to ensure respect for the rule of law in Poland.” [RSF]
Pirate Times has made extensive coverage on the press freedom deterioration in 2015. In Austria the surveillance hangs heavy. Brazil continues to feel the effects of ‘Marco Civil da Internet‘. In Illinois, USA, schools are allowed to spy on students. Spain has a repressive gag law. In Germany treason charges were brought forward to attempt silencing the press.
“The worst threat against freedom of speech is self-censorship. Being afraid of consequences for speaking your mind when it might be recorded digitally for a very long time is an example. Another threat towards freedom of speech is its potential commercialization. Genuine opinions are sometimes obfuscated by paid advertisement. We need to protect the ‘free word’ rather than the ‘paid word’.”
The state of the World Press Freedom Index is another sign why organizations like International Modern Media Institute (IMMI) are needed. They work to create more digital rights among other changes to policies and laws to enable a safe haven for journalism. Currently they are running a crowdfunding campaign where a donation will help to improve press freedom in the world.
Images: Screenshots from rsf.org