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United States classed as ‘problematic’ place for journalists to work

Romania, Chile and Botswana outrank US in World Press Freedom Index

WT24 Desk

Journalists around the world are increasingly having to deal with threats of violence while carrying out their jobs, with politicians such as Donald Trumpstoking a hatred of reporters that is degenerating into physical attacks, a report warns, The Guardian reportts.

The US fell down the Reporters Without Borders (RWB) annual World Press Freedom Index and is now classed as a “problematic” country for journalists to work in, ranking below the likes of Romania, Chile, and Botswana.

This follows inflammatory comments from the president and a broader hatred of the media which resulted in the shooting of five newspaper staff at the Capital Gazette in Maryland.

Among other issues in the last year, Trump branded several mainstream news outlets the “enemy of the American people”, while political reporters covering the White House have had to seek additional security measures and newsrooms have been repeated targeted with bomb threats.

“If the political debate slides surreptitiously or openly towards a civil war-style atmosphere, in which journalists are treated as scapegoats, then democracy is in great danger,” said RWB’s secretary general, Christophe Deloire. “Halting this cycle of fear and intimidation is a matter of the utmost urgency for all people of goodwill who value the freedoms acquired in the course of history.”

Of the 180 countries and territories surveyed, only 43 were considered to have a “good” or “fairly good” rating for press freedom. As a result journalists have to deal with an “unprecedented level of fear and danger for journalists”.

The UK rose seven places to number 33 on the list, aided by the former culture secretary Matt Hancock’s decision to abandon proposals to make media organisations pay the costs of both sides in libel cases unless they signed up to an officially recognised press regulator.

However, the report’s authors warned the UK remained one of the worst-ranked western European countries “largely due to a heavy-handed approach towards the press, often in the name of national security”.

Among other issues, RWB cited the lack of protections for British journalists and whistleblowers in the government’s new Investigatory Powers Act; the UK’s mass surveillance regime, which was found to violate the Europeanconvention on human rights, and new counter-terrorism legislation which critics say puts journalists’ data at risk.

It also highlighted the case of Northern Irish investigative journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey who were arrested last year following their reporting on the Loughinisland massacre. The pair had their journalistic materials confiscated, and remain on police bail seven months after being arrested.

Once again the best-rated countries were in the Nordic region, with Norway retaining the top spot alongside Finland and Sweden.

Some of the worst falls were recorded in the Americas, where the new Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, has repeatedly criticised the media. Authoritarian regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua were also criticised.

“Nicaraguan journalists covering protests against President Ortega’s government are treated as protesters and are often physically attacked,” the report’s authors said.

There was positive news from some African countries, with substantial jumps in the press freedom rankings for Gambia following a change of government.

The report also found that Ethiopia was “making spectacular progress” following the new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed’s rise to power last April. His decision to release many detained journalists and bloggers meant “for the first time in more than 10 years, no media professional was in prison at the end of 2018”.

Top five countries for press freedom

  • 1 Norway
  • 2 Finland
  • 3 Sweden
  • 4 Netherlands
  • 5 Denmark

Worst five countries for press freedom

  • 176 Vietnam
  • 177 China
  • 178 Eritrea
  • 179 North Korea
  • 180 Turkmenistan

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