Press Freedom
Under Scrutiny

February 1, 2013 • Press Freedom • by

“Reporters Without Borders“ has once again published its annual Press Freedom Index. According to the ranking, Finland remains the global “front runner,” followed by the Netherlands, Norway, and Luxembourg. In the European Union, Spain, France, and Italy made modest improvements, while Germany and the U.K. moved slightly backwards (from 16 and 17 resp. from their previous position’s of 28 and 29). Several countries made larger leaps, with Serbia and Latvia receiving moderate rankings increases, moving from 50 and 80 to 39and 63respectively. Russia and Turkey on the other hand regressed, (from 136 and 142 resp. to 142 and 148), however not as severely as Hungry (from 40 to 56) or Japan, who had one of the worst declines of any nation, dropping 31 points and moving from their previous spot of 22 to their new ranking of 53. Bringing up the dark rear, according to Reporters Without Borders, was Turkmenistan, North Korea, and Eritrea (rankings of 177 to 179).

Without a doubt the overall goal of the index is noble, not to mention that fact that journalists are keen on rankings – possibly because they know their publics are anxious about them. Therefore, it is no surprise that each year the Press Freedom Index receives a great deal of attention from media outlets in those countries where press freedom is guaranteed. However, it is irritating that journalists continue year-by-year to report the results of the ranking without challenging the data’s validity. It could be expected that such statistics be treated with much more caution. Not much phantasy is needed to imagine how difficult it must be to collect the data and to compare them internationally using the same measures. Particularly in countries without press freedom, this effort is a kind of “mission impossible“ – as infringements are not made public.

How should activists and experts from Reporters Without Borders really know how often in Iran, in Syria, in China, or in Russia, the secret service or other governmental agencies are silencing journalists – and whether the climate of anxiety and self censorship is more horrible in one country compared to another? Certainly, the referees deserve our sympathy. They are taking high personal risks if they are leaking “state secrets“ to a foreign non-profit organization. This however, does not mean that they are reliable informants, whose data gathering and judgments are internationally comparable.

The full Report is available here.

First publication – with small modifications – in the Austrian weekly Die Furche Nr. 5/2013

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