Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres, or RSF) released its 2006 Worldwide Press Freedom Index last week, reflecting “the degree of freedom journalists and news organisations enjoy in each country, and the efforts made by the state to respect and ensure respect for this freedom.” RSF compiled the list based solely on violations of a free press that occurred between 1-Sep-05 and 1-Sep-06. The list does not take into account general violations of human rights. RSF uses a questionnaire of 50 criteria to assess every violation of press freedom, from physical violence on journalists to censorship and harassment of news media, and the legal and governmental environment for press freedoms and the free flow of information online. It sent questionnaires to other groups concerned with freedom of expression, journalists, jurists, and human rights activists around the world.
The Index lists these fourteen countries as the most conducive to a free press: Finland, Iceland, Ireland, and Netherlands (tied for 1st), Czech Republic (5th), Estonia and Norway (6th), Slovakia and Switzerland (8th), Hungary, Latvia, Portugal, and Slovenia (10th). The countries most hostile to a free press, occupying places 159-168, are Nepal, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, Burma, Cuba, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, and North Korea.
The United States is tied for 53rd with Botswana, Croatia, and Tonga. It ranks behind Japan (51st), Israel (50th), South Africa (44th), France (tied for 35th), South Korea (31st), and Bolivia (16th), among others. RSF states “[t]he United States has fallen nine places since last year, after being in 17th position in the first year of the Index, in 2002. Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of “national security” to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his “war on terrorism.” The zeal of federal courts which, unlike those in 33 US states, refuse to recognise the media’s right not to reveal its sources, even threatens journalists whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism.”