New Survey Ranks Press Freedoms

In History, Journalism, media, peace, war on terror on October 25, 2008 by Editor Z

A new survey out shows that the USA is only 36th in a four way tie in terms of countries with the most press freedoms. The survey from the organization “Reporters without Borders” consists of Forty nine questions ranking 173 nations all over the globe. Such questions regarding issues such as the number of media and journalists, personal and direct threats to media personnel, how strongly the governments and authorities of the countries in question attempted to either bring those violators of press freedoms to justice or how stridently those in power tried to keep those violators from being brought to justice. In direct threats (harassment and surveillance), state censorship, media being blocked from access to certain regions, the detention or deportation of Foreign media personnel, state owned monopolies of media outlets, excessive fines and restrictions, or governments blocking access to certain websites or keeping its citizens from access the Internet at all, were taken into account.

The country with the most press freedoms was Iceland, while the nation with the least was the African state of Eritrea.

Other countries and results in the survey include: Canada (13), Austria (14, Germany (20), the United Kingdom (in a three way tie with Hungary and Namibia for 23), France (35), Mexico (140), Russia (141), and China (167) amongst many others.

The United States, embarrassingly enough came in a five way tie for 36th, (with South Africa, Cape Verde, Taiwan, Spain, and Bosnioa and Herzegovia).

One of the central findings is that prosperous western nations aren’t necessarily the ones to have the most press freedoms and thus the most informed public. Its countries at peace with stability and some facsimile of Democratic governance that tend to be the most likely. Even some democracies enriched with a history of press freedoms are beginning to cowardly cede them in the name of security and combating terrorism.

It is not economic prosperity but peace that guarantees press freedom. That is the main lesson to be drawn from the world press freedom index that Reporters Without Borders compiles every year and from the 2008 edition, released today. Another conclusion from the index – in which the bottom three rungs are again occupied by the “infernal trio” of Turkmenistan (171st), North Korea (172nd) and Eritrea (173rd) – is that the international community’s conduct towards authoritarian regimes such as Cuba (169th) and China (167th) is not effective enough to yield results.

“The post-9/11 world is now clearly drawn,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Destabilised and on the defensive, the leading democracies are gradually eroding the space for freedoms. The economically most powerful dictatorships arrogantly proclaim their authoritarianism, exploiting the international community’s divisions and the ravages of the wars carried out in the name of the fight against terrorism. Religious and political taboos are taking greater hold by the year in countries that used to be advancing down the road of freedom.”

“The world’s closed countries, governed by the worst press freedom predators, continue to muzzle their media at will, with complete impunity, while organisations such as the UN lose all authority over their members,” Reporters Without Borders added. “In contrast with this generalised decline, there are economically weak countries that nonetheless guarantee their population the right to disagree with the government and to say so publicly

Just a reminder that War doesn’t just cost us in lives and in the treasury but also in terms of freedoms and truths.

The United States according to the survey made progress though, rising from 48th last year to 36th. Still there is little doubt this is a blow to our international public image as well as to the values we have trumpeted and cherished for our 232 year history.

The United States rose twelve places to 36th position. The release of Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami Al-Haj after six years in the Guantanamo Bay military base contributed to this improvement. Although the absence of a federal “shield law” means the confidentiality of sources is still threatened by federal courts, the number of journalists being subpoenaed or forced to reveal their sources has declined in recent months and none has been sent to prison. But the August 2007 murder of Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey in Oakland, California, is still unpunished a year later. The way the investigation into his murder has become enmeshed in local conflicts of interest and the lack of federal judicial intervention also help to explain why the United States did not get a higher ranking. Account was also taken of the many arrests of journalists during the Democratic and Republican conventions.

America has prided itself on its freedoms. The Freedom of the Press is central to this, since traditionally the media has been the public window into reality and has exposed the injustices and flaws in our system, culture, and lives. To escape the People suppressed, oppressed, depressed, and disillusioned have embarked on travels to this country some coming by way of little more then on a plank of wood, making their voyage to this large island between the vast oceans of the Pacific and Atlantic to be protected from tyranny, to embrace and not retreat from knowledge, to bask in the glow and not hide from the wonders of creativity, escape the bondage of intimidation, and to contribute to that great centuries and ages old work in progress known as humanity. These freedoms have been the foundation for that vision as well as for our country’s very survival. That is what makes America great and it is openness that brings stability not subterranean prisons that will keep it great.

Political corruption was also viewed to be a cause of languishing or sparse press freedoms, since it is the press that delivers the knowledge of such unsavory practices to the public.

The other disease that eats away at democracies and makes them lose ground in the ranking is corruption. The bad example of Bulgaria (59th), still last in Europe, serves as a reminder that universal suffrage, media pluralism and some constitutional guarantees are not enough to ensure effective press freedom. The climate must also favour the flow of information and expression of opinions. The social and political tensions in Peru (108th) and Kenya (97th), the media politicisation in Madagascar (94th) and Bolivia (115th) and the violence against investigative journalists in Brazil (82nd) are all examples of the kinds of poison that blight emerging democracies. And the existence of people who break the law to get rich and who punish inquisitive journalists with impunity is a scourge that keeps several “great countries” – such as Nigeria (131st), Mexico (140th) and India (118th) – in shameful positions.

And more and more as the media is becoming more accessible and open to not only consumption of information but for distributing information by way of Internet videos and blogs amongst other things, is the crackdown on Internet access as well as users. We have seen mass arrests, detentions, and retributions by governments in places such as China, Myanmar, and Egypt for exposing government practices as well as amassing information about the outside world online.

Online repression also exposes these tenacious taboos. In Egypt (146th), demonstrations launched online shook the capital and alarmed the government, which now regards every Internet user as a potential danger. The use of Internet filtering is growing by the year and the most repressive governments do not hesitate to jail bloggers. While China still leads the “Internet black hole” ranking worldwide, deploying considerable technical resources to control Internet users, Syria (159th) is the Middle-East champion in cyber-repression. Internet surveillance is so thorough there that even the least criticism posted online is sooner or later followed by arrest.

In this world where government secrets and the shell game of media public relations is becoming more and more prevalent. Where simulations and carbon copies tend to become indistinguishable from reality, people in lands all over the world need reliable non- costumed information.



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