As they have in previous years, European countries continue to dominate the Top 20 in the Reporters Without Borders 2009 Press Freedom Index, despite poor showings from countries like France, Italy, Romania and Slovakia.
Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Norway and Sweden all received top marks in the report, which tracks media freedom around the world. Yet despite Northern Europe’s steadfast protection of freedom of speech and expression, protections in other European countries showed further declines from last year. France and Italy dropped down the list by 8 and 5 slots respectively, drawing fire for authorities’ meddling in the press and physical assaults on media professionals.
Most Eastern European countries also dropped down the list, as governments adopted increasingly restrictive libel and defamation laws, assigned harsh civil and criminal punishments, and interfered in the press. In Slovakia, for example, the parliament endorsed a law that guarantees the subject of a story the right to reply in a story of equal length and prominence as the original article. In Slovenia, 571 journalists faced charges after protesting against political pressure on the media.
“Press freedom must be defended everywhere in the world with the same energy and the same insistence. Europe should be setting an example as regards civil liberties. How can you condemn human rights violations abroad if you do not behave irreproachably at home?” RWB Secretary-General Jean-Francois Julliard said at the official release.
The U.S. climbed 16 spots this year, finishing 20th on the list.
Eritrea landed at the bottom of the list for the third straight year. The impoverished and deeply troubled Horn of Africa nation beat out a gaggle of competitors in the bottom 20 — including North Korea, Turkmenistan, Iran, Burma, Somalia and Cuba — to finish dead last.
The differences between those in the bottom 20 can be stark. Eritrea is the only African country without any private media in any format at all, and authorities tolerate no free expression whatsoever. Somalia’s private media, on the other hand, is hamstrung by violence and chaos that grips the country, rather than any official policies.
The annual index, now in its eighth year, is compiled on the basis of questionnaires completed by hundreds of journalists and media experts around the world.