Media Freedom Faced ‘Drastic Decline’ in 2014: RSF

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Journalists take photos in the Gaza Strip on July 21, 2014, during the seven-week Israeli assault on the besieged enclave. Al-Akhbar/Yasser Kadih

Published Thursday, February 12, 2015

Media freedom suffered a "drastic decline" worldwide last year in part because of extremist groups such as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Boko Haram, the watchdog group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in its annual evaluation released Thursday.

"There has been an overall deterioration linked to very different factors, with information wars, and action by non-state groups acting like news despots," the head of the Paris-based group, Christophe Deloire, told AFP.

The RSF 2015 World Press Freedom Index stated that there was an eight percent increase in the violations of freedom of information in 180 countries in 2014 compared to its 2013 report, according to its statistically weighted calculation.

All parties in conflicts raging in the Middle East and Ukraine were waging "a fearsome information war" where media personnel were directly targeted to be killed, captured or pressured to relay propaganda, it said.

ISIS, which is active in Syria and Iraq, Boko Haram in northern Nigeria and Cameroon, and criminal organizations in Italy and Latin America all used "fear and reprisals to silence journalists and bloggers who dare to investigate or refuse to act as their mouthpieces," the watchdog said.

North Africa and the Middle East contained notable "black holes" in which "entire regions are controlled by non-state groups in which independent information simply does not exist," the group said.

"The criminalization of blasphemy endangers freedom of information in around half of the world's countries," the report said, noting that religious extremists sometimes also go after journalists or bloggers they believe do not sufficiently respect their faith.

Regional Countries

RSF's ranking put Iran, China, Syria and North Korea among the countries with the very worst levels of press freedom out of the 180 evaluated.

Lebanon, meanwhile, ranked 98th on the list. The highest ranking Arab countries were Comoros at 50 and Mauritania at 55.

In December, RSF listed Syria as one of the most dangerous places for journalists.

According to the December report, the most dangerous areas in the world for journalists are Iraq and Syria, since ISIS controls a large part of their territories, particularly the city of Mosul, where a “climate of terror” prevails, and the Syrian province of Deir Ezzor, where ISIS has imposed a set of 11 rules for journalists that include swearing allegiance to its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Meanwhile, Israel ranked 101th on the list.

A Gaza-based watchdog had said in January that 2014 was the deadliest ever for journalists working in the Palestinian territories, months after a bloody war in the besieged enclave claimed the lives of more than 2,310 Gazans.

The Gaza Center for Press Freedom accused Israel of committing 295 separate "violations of press freedom" across the occupied Palestinian territories.

These resulted in the deaths of 17 journalists during the deadly war in July and August, including that of an Italian photographer working for Associated Press (AP).

The report revealed Israel arrested or detained an unspecified number of journalists, denied freedom of movement to local media workers wanting to leave the blockaded Gaza Strip, and partially or completely destroyed 19 buildings housing editorial operations during its bombardment of the territory during the conflict.

According to the Gaza Center for Press Freedom, the Palestinian Authority also committed 82 violations of press freedom, including arresting or summoning 28 journalists, and injuring or assaulting 26 more.

Worldwide threats to press freedom

Repression of journalists in Ukraine during its early-2014 uprising against its pro-Kremlin president, and in Turkey during anti-government demonstrations earned both spots in the bottom quarter of the table.

"Police misconduct" during the Occupy Central protests in Hong Kong earned that territory a slide to 70th position.

The best-rated nations were northern European states such as Finland, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden, with New Zealand, Canada and Jamaica also making the top 10.

But some other European countries did not do so well. Italy, for instance, fell 24 spots to 73rd position because of mafia threats and "unjustified defamation suits." Overall, "the EU appears to be swamped by a certain desire on the part of some members states to compromise on freedom of information," the report said.

The United States ranked 49, three spots lower than in the previous report, in part because of what RSF called the US government's "war on information" against WikiLeaks and other whistleblowers.

In South America, Venezuela stood out with a 20-notch fall to a ranking of 137 due to the National Bolivarian Guard opening fire on clearly identified journalists during demonstrations.

Libya dropped 17 places to 154 because of the national chaos that has seen seven journalists murdered and 37 kidnapped.

Russia slipped to the 152nd spot after introducing "another string of draconian laws," website blocking and the extinction of independent media.

"Press freedom... is in retreat on all five continents," RSF declared, claiming its indicators were "incontestable."

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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