The phrase “tipping point” may more often be connected with climate change, but it is also what Reporters Without Borders (RSF) used to describe the state of press freedom around the world in its annual World Press Freedom Index. Coming the day after the Committee to Protect Journalism came out with its own annual Attacks on the Press report, RSF’s findings are no less disheartening.
Here, for example, is RSF’s rundown of the picture its numbers show:
The 2017 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reflects a world in which attacks on the media have become commonplace and strongmen are on the rise. We have reached the age of post-truth, propaganda, and suppression of freedoms – especially in democracies.
In fact, writes RSF, “Media freedom has never been so threatened,” pointing to the fact that 2/3 of the countries in the index have experienced an erosion of press freedom in the last year and that the countries’ cumulative points are at their highest ever since RSF first introduced its index in 2002. Points are inversely related to level of press freedom, and are calculated across a number of measures that include: pluralism of opinions; independence from governmental, corporate, religious influences; general news environment and level of self-censorship; the “legislative framework” under which news happens; transparency; infrastructure; and abuse, which also measures violence directed at the press.
The country with the biggest drop in position was Nicaragua, which dropped 17 spots to 92nd, thanks to “President Daniel Ortega’s controversial re-election,” which “was marked by many cases of censorship, intimidation, harassment, and arbitrary arrest.”
The worst section of RSF’s list is the “black zone,” populated by countries with the most repressive actions against journalists. Three new countries have been added to that section: Burundi, Egypt and Bahrain. Coming in dead last is North Korea, which bested Eritrea for the dubious distinction the latter country had held on to for 10 years.
The black zone itself has grown this year, while the yellow zone, which is where countries with good or acceptable situations can be found, has shrunk.
While the countries with the worst press freedoms are, unsurprisingly, autocratic or totalitarian states, RSF also looks at the effect that worsening press freedom in Democratic states have on other governments, including–and you knew it was coming–in the United States, which dropped two spots this year:
The election of the 45th president of the United States set off a witchhunt against journalists. Donald Trump’s repeated diatribes against the Fourth Estate and its representatives – accusing them of being “among the most dishonest human beings on earth” and of deliberately spreading “fake news” – compromise a long US tradition of defending freedom of expression. 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.
The United States now takes the 43rd spot in the index. The assessment was not kind to either the current president nor his predecessor, citing as problematic President Trump’s diatribes against journalists and the media, the lack of a federal shield law, while also acknowledging the Obama administration’s targeting of whistleblowers.
Taking the number one spot is Norway.