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Which country has the worst press freedom?

This year’s World Freedom Index reveals a global feeling of fear and tension among the press because of increasing censorship and crackdowns from governments and private-sector interests.

The report describes a "deep and disturbing decline in respect for media freedom at both the global and regional levels."

Reporters Without Borders have published the World Press Freedom Index since 2002. The Index is an important advocacy tool based on the principle of freedom of press. The World Press Freedom Index reflects the intensity of attacks on journalistic freedom and independence throughout 180 countries and evaluates pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative environment, transparency, infrastructure, and abuses. The Index is not an indicator of the quality of the journalism in each country, nor does it rank public policies, despite the fact that governments has an impact on their country’s ranking. The Index is based on 87-question surveys administered in nearly two dozen languages and an evaluation and then processed to a point system.

Journalism and media coverage are essential to understanding the world’s most challenging problems. As a global community, it’s important to hold governments, world leaders, businesses, changemakers, and ourselves to a higher standard of transparency. When access to information is limited, the repercussions are extensive: important stories remain hidden, history becomes warped, general public awareness diminishes.

In places where information is tightly controlled, journalists put themselves at continuous risk when reporting on events, especially if those events involve the powerful in any way. And far too often, journalists face repercussions: censorships, jailings, beatings, assassinations, etc. 

Reporters Without Borders is dedicated to shedding light on the plight of journalism around the world in order to protect this vital protession. One way it ensures safer and more open environments is by ranking countries and then shaming the countries that perform badly.

Based on 87 questions and an evaluation of key indicators, a point value is given to each of the regions and each of the countries in the Index. The higher the number point value a location receives, the worse off a nation is in terms of freedom of press. Compared to 2013, there has been a decline in all indicator areas--an alarming trend.

The run-down

Continent breakdown:

In first place, Europe wins for news media being the most free with 19.8 points.

Africa gets silver for being in second with a total of 96.9, followed by the Americas in the bronze category with 57.1 points. (This is the first time Africa beat America in this kind of index.)

Asia and Eastern Europe are next, followed by North Africa and the Middle East (50.8 points).

Country breakdown:

Finland: 1st, holding the same position since 2010.  

Netherlands: 2nd, moving up 2 places

Norway: 3rd, moving down 1 place

Thanks to a deep decline in violence and legal proceedings, Tunisia and Ukraine moved up the most with Tunisia at 96th and Ukraine at 107th.  

Poland: moved down 29 places and gained the 47th place as a result of its conservative government seizing control of the public media

Tajikistan: jumped 34 places to the 150th place because of the region’s growing authoritarianism

The Sultanate of Brunei: because of self-censorship, they have moved down 34 spots and ended in the 155th spot.

Burundi: appeared in the 156th spot, down 11, because of the violence against journalists who were reporting about the President’s reelection for a third term

Turkmenistan (178th), North Korea (179th) and Eritrea (180th) remain at the bottom of the list.

The global indicator has gone from 3719 points last year to 3857 points this year. That's a 13.6% total decline since 2013.

The index proves that even with the rise of technology, there is still a decline in freedom of information. In fact, technology often facilitates this decline by giving governments the tools to track down and censor the press.

“It is unfortunately clear that many of the world’s leaders are developing a form of paranoia about legitimate journalism,” RWB’s secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

Press poses a threat to governmental power and some governments do not hesitate to suspend access to the media or even to destroy the equipment or printing presses of media outlets they dislike. Some reporters are even thrown in jail or are persecuted for being a voice for their communities. Because of the growing influence of extremist movements and ultraconservative governments, media outlets and free speech have become more vulnerable than ever.

Growing self-censorship is also an important area to look at in this worrisome situation. As media groups see their peers face consequences, they may preemptively censor themselves to prevent similar crackdowns. The “media environment and self-censorship” indicator has fallen by more than 10% from 2013 to 2016.

Check out the full Index and the organization’s variety of highlights and evaluations.

The UN International Press Freedom day is Tuesday, May 3. You can be on the lookout to see this year’s themes of quality journalism, gender imbalance, and digital safety.

“Don't wait to be deprived of news before defending it!”